BELLEVILLE — The Lindenwood University-Belleville campus on Sunday hosted its first graduation ceremony since the school was founded a decade ago.
Commencement speaker U.S. Rep. Bill Enyart, D-Belleville, said the day marked many firsts.
Most Lindenwood graduates are getting their first degree from the university and some graduates are the first from their families to attend college, Enyart said.
Enyart said it was his first time giving a graduation speech.
Enyart spoke before a filled gymnasium -- with the overflow crowd seated in the school's auditorium -- and underscored the importance of the motto of the Boy Scouts: "Be prepared."
Graduating is the first step to being prepared, Enyart said. But graduates also should continue to prepare themselves to take on the responsibilities of citizenship; take on naysayers, those without vision, the powerful; stand up for what's right and true; and be ready for failure and success.
Enyart asked the class of 2013 to remember Belleville amid their successes, and to think of the people who had the vision to transform an empty high school into a successful university.
After Enyart's address, Lindenwood officials gave him an honorary degree.
Stacey White, of Red Bud, said it meant so much more to have her daughter's graduation ceremony in Belleville.
White said her daughter, Echo Katherine Hergenroeder, graduated cum laude and plans to continue in the master's program for social work.
"She did it for herself, but also to show her three girls that if you want something bad enough, you can do it," White said.
Lindenwood gave Hergenroeder the extra push, care and support to finish school, White said.
Richard M. Wagner, 57, walked across the stage -- alongside his son, Joseph M. Wagner, 26.
"Not many people can say they graduated college with their son," the senior Wagner said.
Richard Wagner, a master sergeant with the St. Clair County's Sheriff's Department, and Joseph Wagner, an officer with the Millstadt Police Department, each earned a bachelor's degree in criminal justice.
The Wagners ended up in school together because of a wager.
Richard Wagner said he would go back to college as part of a "Cops for Credit" program if his son went too.
Joseph Wagner didn't think his dad would actually do it.
But Richard Wagner enrolled in fall 2010 and Joseph Wagner followed after.
"We're in all the same classes together," Richard Wagner said.
They also participate in the Lindenwood Police Patrol, which gives students tuition reduction in exchange for campus security work.
Father and son have three more quarters to go before they earn master's degrees in criminal justice administration.
Joseph Wagner said it's an honor for him to be part of the first class to graduate from the Belleville campus.
"It's recognizing this campus for what it really is and all it has done for us," Joseph Wagner said.
Jim Shoemake, chairman of the Lindenwood Board of Directors, congratulated the graduates and told them the school is proud of their many accomplishments.
He also asked students not to take for granted the beauty of the historic campus that once was Belleville Township High School and later Belleville West. The university has made $23 million in upgrades since purchasing the site at 2600 W. Main St. for $1 in 2003.
"Having a campus in Belleville is a realization of a dream for many of us," Shoemake said.
Contact reporter Jacqueline Lee at firstname.lastname@example.org or 239-2655. Follow her on Twitter at twitter.com/BNDBelleville.