"It puts a stamp on me as an educated man," said Louisiana State University's Big Man on Campus, who earned a bachelor of arts in general studies with a minor in political science.
The 7-foot-1, 320-pound Los Angeles Lakers star sat on stage in cap and extra-extra-long gown during Friday morning's general graduation ceremony. But he planned to sit with his fellow students during an afternoon ceremony to receive his diploma.
"I can get a real job now," he said, drawing cheers from other graduates.
"To all the young people out there who think money and fame is important, it's only a small piece of the pie," said O'Neal. "You need an education to be totally secure in life. I feel very secure I can go get a real job now. I want to thank my mother for raising me well, and my dad and coach. I want to thank the people of Baton Rouge for being very, very hospitable. And one last thing, LSU now stands for Love Shaq University. Can you dig it? can you dig it?"
"You can imagine what he had to do to complete all the requirements while playing in the NBA," said Mike Mallet, O'Neal's academic adviser at LSU.
O'Neal left LSU in 1992 after three years to turn pro, promising his parents and his college coach, Dale Brown, he would get his degree someday.
"I promised my parents I'd do it, I promised myself I'd do it," O'Neal said. "It took eight years. It should have taken six or seven. I had some other engagements."
O'Neal attended some classes during the summer, but for the most part, earned credit through LSU's independent studies program.
"Thank God for the Internet and Federal Express," Mallet said. "He got the material one way or another and got it back one way or another."
The basketball star declined to give his grade-point average and standing in the class.
The Lakers gave Shaq their blessing to miss tonight's game against the Vancouver Grizzlies so he could graduate with his senior class.
"Here he is, almost 30, and he's graduating from college," Lakers coach Phil Jackson said. "He's persevered to do it. We wish him well in his graduation. It's a wonderful thing to do."
O'Neal, who led the Lakers to their first NBA championship in 12 years, will earn more than $19 million this season and is under contract through the 2005-06 season for more than $152 million.
"It's not like he's going to be looking for a job," Mallet said. "But it shows kids that there is more to life than fame and fortune"
Friday's ceremony was held at the Maravich Assembly Center, the site of O'Neal's basketball exploits at LSU, where he set school, conference and national records. LSU made it to the NCAA tournament all three years he played but never got further than the second round.