PEORIA — Embrace civility and community, and find inspiration in the success of yourselves and your neighbors.

That was the message Ray LaHood brought to the graduating class of Illinois Central College on Saturday morning during commencement ceremonies at the Peoria Civic Center.

"Men and women, singly or as part of larger families, living their lives in decency and love, working hard, being honest, quietly attending to their duties, are the very cornerstone of community life," the former congressman and Cabinet official — himself a former community college student — told the assembled crowd. "So many of you have lived out those qualities, day in and day out."

The graduates ranged in age from 17 to 64, college President Sheila Quirk-Bailey told attendees at the ceremony.

LaHood, as he often has in the past, urged a return to a more pleasant tone in public discourse.

"The most consequential leaders conduct themselves with civility — in victory and defeat," he said. "Successful public service in a democracy does not require the destruction of one's adversaries."

And LaHood highlighted the successes of a handful of graduates, telling the students that each of them demonstrated similar, laudable values.

Among those he honored was Haley Wisner, returning to ICC at age 33 to complete her degree while working two jobs and raising a family.

And he highlighted Ruben Moro, whose mother immigrated from Mexico when he was five to escape family instability. Moro himself later became a permanent resident, earning his associate's degree in engineering science and making plans to attend Southern Illinois University - Carbondale in the fall.

"Ruben says what kept him going is his mother," LaHood said. "Because she worked so hard over the years providing for him and his siblings, he wants to show her something for her sacrifice."

Some 1,527 students received degrees or certificates, many taking the stage to cheers and applause from family members and friends.

The college is marking its 50th anniversary this year; LaHood also spoke at graduation exercises during its 30th anniversary year.

Chris Kaergard can be reached at ckaergard@pjstar.com or 686-3255. Follow him on Twitter @ChrisKaergard.