One president. Thirteen years. Seventy-two thousand degrees conferred. This is the legacy of Northern Illinois University President John G. Peters.
On Friday and Saturday, Peters presided over commencement activities for the last time, including a Friday evening Graduate School ceremony and three separate events on Saturday.
“Commencements are so important. They are the culmination of why universities are in existence,” Peters said. “Even though we are a comprehensive research university, we are all about the training and educating of undergraduate and graduate students and professional students.
“To me, nothing says how important the work that we do really is than what happens at commencement. Think of the sum total of individual efforts that go into producing a graduate,” he added. “There’s just something fantastic about these thousands of young people who march across that stage with their parents and families in attendance – that’s a special moment.”
Early Saturday evening, at the end of the third commencement ceremony of the day, Peters shook hands and congratulated the last of more than 3,000 graduate and undergraduate students receiving a degree this spring.
Grace Reynolds, a kinesiology-exercise science major from Rockford, was the last one to receive her degree. She said she enjoyed her experiences in the College of Education and the professors that brought the subject matter to life.
“I loved my major and the professors who were passionate about exercise science and really wanted us to learn,” Reynolds explained.
Reynolds said she made lasting friendships at NIU, and her experiences in the Greek system as a member of the Sigma Kappa sorority provided memories that will last a lifetime. She reflected on the impact President Peters had on NIU and what it meant to be the final graduate to shake his hand and receive a diploma from him.
“I didn’t realize I was the last graduate until I was on the stage,” Reynolds said afterward. “It was an honor because President Peters was a great president, and I could tell he genuinely cared about the university and the community.”
“I was elated. I didn’t want it to end,” Peters said. “This time, I kept looking at the students as they were queuing up, and I began to get this empty feeling that there were no rows left. There were fewer hands to shake, and then I came to my last handshake.”
Peters was obviously emotional as he uttered his final words to the recent graduates, saying “Farewell, NIU.”
Trustee John Butler thanked Peters for his leadership, noting he had conferred more than 72,000 degrees to students over the past 13 years.
“I want to personally thank Dr. Peters for his steady leadership over the past 13 years. His leadership sharpened our vision as a university, and he oversaw a period of great transformation,” said Robert Boey, vice chair of the NIU Board of Trustees, in his commencement address. “From the moment he first arrived, he saw the enormous potential of NIU and began working toward that goal.”
“What a wonderful way to go out,” Peters added.