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NIU graduation: Local students among multitude celebrating

DeKALB – Jack Sauter, a 2014 DeKalb High School graduate, was all set to attend the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

At the last minute, however, he switched to Northern Illinois University and said it was the best decision he’s made. Sauter graduated from NIU on Saturday with a Bachelor of Arts in political science.

“For financial reasons, I stayed in DeKalb, and it worked out because I got a four-year fellowship,” he said. “I had a lot of opportunities here and met a lot of great people. I got to do a lot of things at NIU that I wouldn’t have been able to do in Madison. My college experience might have been a little unconventional, but it worked for me. Graduating from NIU feels very rewarding.”

More than 3,500 graduates marched across the stage at NIU’s Convocation Center during the weekend ceremonies to receive their degrees. Acting NIU President Lisa Freeman said in her remarks during the ceremony that NIU students are “committed to service, academic success, their communities and each other.”

“Graduates, your individual stories are amazing, and your numerous accomplishments are impressive,” she said in her speech. “It is exciting and inspiring to contemplate your futures. I believe in you. I am inspired by your dreams. You are beautiful to behold.”

Hampshire native Victoria Lunacek has wanted to be a Huskie since she was 10 years old. The 2012 Burlington Central High School and new NIU graduate said she fell in love with NIU’s campus when she visited years ago.

“I had a traditional college experience here because I lived on campus,” she said of staying close to home for college. “I made a lot of friends, and learned a lot about journalism. I’m ready to start my career in radio.”

Claire Spahn of DeKalb wanted to attend NIU partly because she was familiar with the campus. The 2013 DeKalb High School graduate said her decision to stay in town was made very easy after receiving a scholarship from NIU.

“For me, college has always been about education, and not necessarily moving away from home,” said Spahn, who graduated with a Bachelor of Arts degree in anthropology and history. “NIU sometimes gets a bad rap from people in DeKalb, but I had a great experience and got a great education. I don’t want people to knock NIU just because they grew up here. There’s a lot more to do on campus than many realize.”

Megan O’Bryan attended Kishwaukee College for two years after graduating from DeKalb High School in 2013. She said she wanted to stay close to home to save money, and attending NIU was the best option for her.

“I’m the first in my family to graduate from college, so this feels amazing,” said O’Bryan, who earned a Bachelor of Arts degree in communications. “I feel like I got a traditional college experience and made a lot of new friends. I loved NIU because the classes weren’t too big, and I made personal connections with all of my professors.”

Olyvia Rand of Sycamore wanted to stay at home for college, so that’s why she chose to attend NIU. The 2012 Sycamore High School graduate, who earned a Bachelor of Science degree in biology, already has a job lined up as a science teacher in Oregon, Illinois.

“I just like living at home and it made sense financially,” she said. “College is what you make of it, and I had a great experience at NIU.”

Graduation is one of environmental science professor Melissa Lenczewski’s favorite days of the year. The DeKalb resident said she loves to see the joy on all of the students’ faces.

“It’s the culmination of all their hard work, and everyone’s excited,” she said. “I’m very proud of them. One of the great things about NIU is that we train them for their jobs. We’re very career-focused, and we’re a good link to the Chicago job market.”

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