MONT ALTO, Pa. — Thousands of family members and friends packed the bleachers and sat in chairs on the gymnasium floor hoping to spot their favorite graduate as Saturday's spring commencement got under way at Penn State Mont Alto.
As the 143 soon-to-be graduates walked into the college's Multipurpose Activities Center, the crowd erupted in squeals of joy, whistles and applause.
Commencement speaker Shaun B. Keister, associate vice president for development for Penn State and a Mont Alto alum, gave the graduates some words of inspiration.
"At Penn State Mont Alto, I had to step up, I had to be fully present," Keister said. "I had to be fully engaged because that's what the faculty demanded of me."
Keister attended Mont Alto from 1988 to 1989 and completed his bachelor of arts degree in political science at Penn State's main campus in State College, Pa.
He said his thirst for learning was instilled in him from the Mont Alto faculty.
"In the years to come, you will find, like I do, that their voices are still in your head telling you to ask tough questions — encouraging you to go on learning," Keister said. "Nothing has a greater, more profound impact on an individual's future than the educational start they got in their life."
In recognition of Keister's service to the college, Penn State Mont Alto Chancellor David Gnage, on behalf of Penn State, named Keister a distinguished alum and presented him with a replica of the Nittany Lion.
After the diplomas were conferred, it was time for congratulations and family photos.
A few years ago, Kayla Carbaugh's mother and aunt received their nursing degrees from Penn State Mont Alto. On Saturday, it was her turn.
"I'm excited," said Carbaugh, who graduated with an associate degree in occupational therapy.
Carbaugh's family stood in the background waiting to take pictures to capture her big day.
"They are my support system, especially my mom and my dad," she said. "They really helped me get through some tough times, like hard tests, and I'm thankful to have them."
It was the can-do attitude of Carbaugh's mother, Pepper, that gave her the extra confidence she needed to persevere.
"Just to see her supporting me in high school, still working and going back for her education — I know that if she could do it, I could do it, too," Carbaugh said.
Before getting her photo taken with the Nittany Lion, Jenny Peden of Mercersburg, Pa., could barely find the words to describe how she felt on her big day.
"I feel accomplished and happy," Peden said while clutching a bouquet of red roses.
Peden earned an associate degree in occupational therapy and plans to earn a master's degree in the same field.
"I really enjoyed my time on campus," she said. "It was a great experience and the faculty really wanted you to succeed."
During Saturday's spring graduation, 108 students received associate degrees and 35 earned baccalaureate degrees.