HAMMOND – Even before they received their degrees, Calumet College of St. Joseph graduates received a charge to use their new skills, not just to better themselves, but to improve their world.

“At Calumet College, you’ve been formed to be a true human being,” said the Rev. Jeffrey Kirch, provincial director of the Missionaries of the Most Precious Blood, the Catholic religious order that sponsors and operates the college. “This is the beginning of your journey, not the end.”

Speaking before commencement Saturday, CCSJ graduates cited their new skills and how they planned to use them.

Eric Aidinovich, a digital and studio arts major from Schererville, said he learned “how to think for myself, how to innovate and how to be more focused.”

Meredith Bielak, a mother and banker from Cedar Lake, said, “The classes I’ve taken relate very well to my work and have expanded my knowledge.”

With a son in high school, Bielak added, “I hope my study habits and dedication have helped him. Also, this shows you’re never too old to learn.”

The college bestowed degrees upon 237 students. These include 56 master’s degrees, 181 bachelor’s degrees and 11 associate degrees.

Kenneth Conde, a biomedical science student from Puerto Rico, hopes the kindness he experienced at CCSJ helps him as he pursues a degree in physical therapy.

The CCSJ class of 2019 included students from Australia, Brazil, Croatia, England, Ireland, Spain, Tanzania and Vietnam.

Frank Agbeijimi, a Merrillville resident majoring in biomedical science, said he learned “how not to be afraid to come out of my shell,” a skill he hopes will help with his job as a customer service representative.

After 14 years in the U.S. Navy and serving in two Middle Eastern wars, Robert DeLeon, of Portage, graduated magna cum laude with a degree in digital and studio arts. Though he received on-the-job training in the military, he said he now has a deeper appreciation for book learning as a civilian.

“Of all the things society can take away from you, knowledge is something you’ll always have,” said DeLeon, the father of two.

Another parent graduate, Jovita Padilla from Lansing, Illinois, brought her daughter Natalia, 2. Pursuing a degree in legal studies, Padilla said she gained “the ability to multi-task and do several things at a time,” including work, school, and motherhood.

“I knew (the degree) would come. It just took a long time,” said Padilla, whose next stop is law school.

After Judge Calvin Hawkins received an honorary law degree from CCSJ, he double-dared graduates “to be dedicated, be decent, and be different” as they carry their morals and ethics into the world.

Class valedictorian Tyler Scott James, a first-generation college student from Deltona, Florida, encouraged his classmates to “use the values we’ve learned to make the world a better place.”