James Gentry, a graduate of the original class from the University of Illinois Police Training Institute, pinned an award on the uniform of the top student in this year's class, which marked 50 years of police training.
The historic graduation ceremony marked the culmination of a 12-week basic law enforcement training program for 63 police officers.
Gentry, 74, who served as a cop in his hometown Decatur Police Department from 1956 to retirement as a lieutenant in 1986, said he feels very honored to present the Ervin H. Warren award, named after the institute's original director.
He gave the first pin ever for the award, which is based on academic achievement and character, to Scott Shuster of Orland Park.
"I'm so proud when I stand and see the caliber of personnel that are graduating and will be police officers on the street," Gentry said in an interview.
The PTI's first class all wore khaki uniforms, stayed at Bromley Hall and marched to class, he said.
"It was all new to police services to have this type of training," Gentry said. "There wasn't that much training back in the old days. It was more like you got trained on the job. You would ride with an older officer for a period of time and that was supposedly how you would learn to do your job."
Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan, the keynote speaker for the graduation ceremony Thursday at the Holiday Inn Conference Center in Urbana, told the new officers that their jobs will be difficult and dangerous.
"But you will find a life of public service to be very satisfying," Madigan said.
Director Tom Dempsey said more than 150,000 officers have been trained at the institute, which is the only state police training academy associated with a major research university.
"This presents us with unique opportunities to become involved in activities that are rarely incorporated into the missions of training academies," Dempsey said.
"The student-centered, adult-learning method employed at PTI is unique and highly effective," he said.
"Many chiefs, sheriffs and trainers continue to comment that our basic class graduates are much further along in skills development and knowledge than recruits trained in a primarily classroom-based environment," Dempsey said.
Dempsey, who has been director for four years, said about 600 police recruits and 300 correctional officers are trained each year at the institute. The attrition rate is 7 percent to 10 percent, he said.
The public demands a lot more from police officers, that they be decision-makers and have community problem-solving skills, he said.
"We have to incorporate training that incorporates those skills in addition to basic skills," Dempsey said. "That is the challenge. The traditional aspect of law enforcement hasn't gone away, but the communities are developing a lot more."
William Walver, 33, a Watseka native who will now join the Watseka Police Department, said his training at PTI was "an eye opener." He said the most surprising thing he learned was how many jobs police officers are expected to do all at the same time.
Walver, who previously worked in construction and served three years in the military, said an important aspect of the training is that officers have to work with citizens to be successful.
"You have to work with your community," Walver said. "You have to know your community."