Bradley alum hopes to motivate graduates

December 21, 2013 Updated Dec 21, 2013 at 11:08 PM CDT

PEORIA, Ill. -- Hundreds of Bradley University Students look towards their future as they crossed the stage for graduation on Saturday.

And as one alum said some things never change on such a special day.

Gowns? Check. Caps? Check. Tassels? It's all here, the makings of a graduation ceremony.

Graduates weren't the only ones getting degrees, Bradley Alum Joe Billy McDade received an honorary degree, a doctorate of humane letters and was the commencement speaker.

"We share four years at Bradley in common. I think they would appreciate that I've been in the same situation that they've been in, same environment," said Joe Billy McDade, U.S. District Judge, Central District of Illinois.

McDade graduated from Bradley in 1959 and is now a U.S. District Judge, but says he can still relate to the feelings students have on graduation day as he reflects back to '59.

"I was extremely nervous because suddenly I was through with college, I was on my own," said McDade.

Decades have passed since McDades' big day, but graduates agree this part of the year is full of emotions.

"Very excited, a little terrified. It's a big thing we're doing right here and I can't wait to get started," said Walter Prescott, Student Commencement Speaker. "These years go fast, Freshmen year on up to the last couple days of finals. It's been one roller coaster the whole way through."

"Coming from a single parent home and being the oldest, it's meant a lot to get to this point, it's a relief to finally reach this point," said Rachel Briskey, Bradley University graduate.

McDade says he hopes to inspire students, giving a real-life example of what may come.

"I knew I didn't have a schedule for the next four years, so I was extremely anxious on what was going to happen and what I was going to do. Then I went back to school, then to law school and things worked out fine," said McDade.

Nearly 280 students got diplomas Saturday and got to hear a message of success from one of their own.