Over 475 now former students will be looking to join the workforce. Colorado Mesa University graduated its December 2012 class in front of a packed gym Friday morning.
Many of the grads say it will be hard to say goodbye to friends and college life, but on the other hand, they say this is a new adventure in their lives and they're hoping the next years will be even more successful than the last four.
Many walked and some crutched, but no matter how these students crossed the stage, they’ll be entering the next phase of life with diploma in hand.
"I know I wanted to be a teacher, and you have to get the education to be that," graduate Ryan Hall said of getting a college degree.
"I’ve transferred a couple of times, switched degrees, so it's been a long time coming," graduate Shea Banister said.
For some, graduation will be a short celebration and ‘real world’ work is the new Monday through Friday schedule.
"I actually just got a job yesterday," graduate Amanda Sutton said.
"I wanted to progress in my workplace and needed an RN [degree] to do that, so I went back for that purpose,” Tashi Lewis said of returning to school for a second degree.
For others who will say goodbye to the Grand Junction campus, the real test is right around the corner.
"[I have a ] business interview as a sales rep back in Lubbock, Texas Monday morning," Banister said.
"I’m going to be a [substitute teacher] next semester and then hopefully in May something will open up so I’ll go find a job then,” Hall added.
In the end, joining the 'real world' will be something new for many graduates. Some are confident they've picked the right major to thrive in life beyond college.
"If it's nursing it's good, if it's anything else, I’m not too certain," Lewis said.
"I think it looks pretty good, education. There are a lot of jobs opening up from what I’ve been hearing. If not, there's always Denver, Colorado Springs, New York City, who knows?" Hall said who will be pursuing a music teaching career.
As the economy begins to turn around, many are hopeful their newly-earned college degrees will get them working soon.
"It might be tough just because of the economy, but I think with an education you can go far,” Sutton said.
Of course, as they move forward, they leave behind past experiences that they're hoping will prepare them for what's ahead.
"I’m going to miss the experience and just all of the people you meet while you're here,” graduate Matthew Mankoff said. “Without a doubt, everything I’ve learned here is going to prepare me for my future, for sure."
For these graduates, that future starts Saturday.
This was just the second December commencement in CMU’s history. Before last year, students had to wait until May to walk.
Friday’s graduation included students who finished their degree requirements in the Summer or Fall 2012 semesters. Around 275 of the 476 students attended Friday’s ceremony.