Hundreds of Fall 2011 Northern Michigan University graduates walked the stage Saturday morning to receive their diplomas.
Commencement Speaker and Director of the Smithsonian National Museum of African Art Johnnetta Cole said now is the time for students to use their education to make a change.
It's a big day for recent graduate Rosa James and her family.
She'll receive her bachelor's degree from NMU's Nursing Program. It's a path she set her sights on early, when she was forced to watch the tragic passing of her 11-year-old brother in her home country of Africa.
"Watching his death was a tragedy for us and our family, so I really wanted to get into nursing and help people and give back," says James.
Her brother suffered a chronic liver condition, she hopes to use her education to help others facing similar challenges.
"I'm feeling very confident leaving this program, they gave me a lot of opportunities to work with various conditions and patients," said Rosa.
It's just one story of hundreds of students who will now begin their own professional lives.
The nationwide unemployment dropped to 8.6 percent last month, some say that may create the best outlook in the past three years, however securing employment will continue to be challenging.
"We are in incredibly challenging times, not just in our own country but around the world," said Cole.
The next step for James? Moving to Florida with her husband, and passing her board examinations.