It's never too late to further one's education, Thomas Nicoski of St. Charles says.
The 63-year-old should know, since he graduated Saturday with a master's degree in organizational leadership from Judson University in Elgin. Nicoski also was the recipient of the Ames leadership award.
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"I encourage people at work to do that all the time," said Nicoski, who works as chief of GIS technology for Kane County. He and his wife, Wendy, got their bachelor's degrees in 2004 from Judson. "I can't ask other people to continue with their education if I don't."
In total, 103 students graduated from the evangelical Christian university with bachelor's degrees, and 45 students received master's degrees, 20 of them in education and the rest in organizational leadership. Graduation ceremonies took place at 10 a.m. and 2 p.m. in the Herrick Chapel.
Among the other award recipients were Emily Moxness of Elgin, who got the student service award; Joseph Monahan of Peoria and Denise Tassoni of Rockford, who received president's scholar awards; Benjamin Zulauf of Elmhurst, who got the "Road to Damascus" award, and Matthew Langton of Marengo, who received the Lincoln student laureate award.
Langton was the first student to graduate from Judson's Learning Behavior Specialist program. Langton came to Judson to work as the assistant coach for the women's softball team, which he did for three years as he earned his degree.
New York Times best-selling author Joan Bauer was the commencement speaker. Bauer has written 11 novels and won numerous awards including the John Newbery Medal, two Christopher Awards and the LA Times Book Prize.
She exhorted graduates to pursue their passions but also to be mindful of keeping those passions alive with the passage of time.
Bauer's speech also drew from personal anecdotes, such as when a student, during a speaking tour in Kazakhstan a few years ago, asked her to write in a booklet the life lessons he should know. "On the first page I wrote, 'God loves you,'" she said. "We're so used to hearing that, but it's so profound. It's so deep."
Graduate Carandus Brown of Rockford especially liked Bauer's exhortation to "live in the now." "I thought that she did a very good job," he said.
Judson is an excellent school with rigorous academic standards, said William Quintero of Elgin, whose 24-year-old son, Johnathan, graduated with a bachelor's degree. He and his wife, Blanca, both originally from Colombia, were happy their son chose Judson, Quintero said. "I feel very good today. This is a very good school."
Michelle Behrends of Big Rock, a 2010 graduate of Judson, received her master's degree in organizational leadership on Saturday. Doing that while working full time at Mooseheart Child City & School has paid off, she said. "I already got two promotions since starting this degree," she said.