For most of the 1,600 University of Nebraska-Lincoln students who walked across the Pinnacle Bank Arena stage and were handed their degrees this weekend, their adult lives are just beginning.
But for Joe Lutes, who started working toward his degree in 1983 as a political science major, Saturday was a little different. The 54-year-old didn't attend the undergraduate commencement ceremony — "I'm not one for pomp and circumstance," he said — but he was still pleased to have completed his degree, which changed to physics along the way.
"I am proud that I made it through this, though, and I wasn't always sure I could," he said. "All of a sudden I have much more free time and I can work more normal hours again."
During his first stint in college, Lutes said he was unsure of his interests, but received a National Merit Scholarship to attend.
He still didn't have a clear direction by 1988, so he decided to end his college run, only to return again in 2014.
In between he got a job at Kawasaki, but said the pain from working physical jobs for the majority of his career motivated him to return to the classroom.
Lutes said he was often putting more than 40 hours a week into his coursework, struggling to schedule both mandatory classes and his job. The only way he could make it work was to switch to the second shift at Kawasaki, one of the many life changes Lutes said comes with being a nontraditional student.
"Be aware that your life will change a lot, even as a part-time student. If you're working full-time, it will change more," he said. "It is hard to make your brain go over concepts you haven't studied since high school, but eventually you'll realize you can still do this and there are many small victories that pop up as you go on."
Lutes said he enjoys working at Kawasaki and hopes to possibly move into engineering with his new degree.
"I kept hearing about how physics degrees are fairly helpful in the job market because of the problem-solving skills involved," he said.
Lutes said he was overwhelmed by how much support he received from family and friends.
"I was gratified by the number of people who are my friends and family who were so incredibly supportive and congratulatory to me," Lutes said.