TRAVERSE CITY — Hard work paid off for hundreds of Northwestern Michigan College students who donned caps and gowns and collected their diplomas during a graduation ceremony at a packed Traverse City Central High School gymnasium.
The Saturday afternoon event allowed graduates, their friends and relatives to celebrate their accomplishments, which were especially meaningful for families like Jair Cruz's.
Jair's wife Beatriz Cruz is the first member of her family to earn a college degree, and Jair, of Suttons Bay, soaked in the moment as he sat in the gymnasium bleachers with his three children, waiting to watch his wife receive her diploma.
"Its been hard for us because we've got three kids, and she works and I work too," he said. "I'm so excited she's going to graduate finally."
More than 200 of the 700 students graduating from NMC this year participated in the ceremony.
Eager audience members fumbled with smart phones and digital cameras as they tried to snap pictures of their mortarboard-clad relatives filing to their seats. The excitement was too much for some who waved and shouted a graduate's name over the college's concert band's rendition of "Pomp and Circumstance."
More than one graduate waved back with a mixed look of embarrassment and affection.
Students from Ferris State University and Michigan State University -- two programs that partner with Northwestern Michigan College through its University Center -- joined NMC's students and listened to remarks from speakers including Ryan Byers, president of NMC's Student Government Association, and commencement speaker Sonja Olshove.
Olshove, a social science instructor at NMC, said the college's faculty are constantly impressed with students' character, accomplishment and compassion.
"You give me hope for the future," she said.
The ceremony also marked the first time NMC officials awarded bachelor's degrees during a commencement.