Saint Leo online degree program prepared Las Vegas performer, Nick MacLeod, for his second act.

The first time Nick MacLeod saw a Cirque du Soleil performance as a child, all he could think about was becoming part of the show. The lights, the acrobatics, the spectacular costumes — it inspired him to train hard with the hope that one day he, too, would have the opportunity to entertain an audience of thousands nightly.

He knew college was important to his future, but as he danced and performed throughout high school, opportunities in entertainment unfolded in front of him. When he heard Cirque du Soleil needed dancers, he was ready.

He auditioned and secured a two-year contract with the prestigious company, landing a spot in "Viva ELVIS," Cirque's tribute to the life and music of Elvis Presley. (In the photo above, Nick is center stage in purple.) A lifelong Elvis fan, Nick was surrounded by Presley friends, family and memorabilia, dancing for the company he had dreamed about as a child.

At age 29, Nick saw another childhood goal turn into reality when he graduated from Saint Leo University with an online bachelor's degree liberal studies. He had already started his next career as a technical recruiter for the health care industry in his home state of Michigan.

Thankful he could live his dream in performance, Nick is excited to be in a position to help others reach their career goals: "I'm helping people find their next jobs and giving them a better opportunity."

In the spotlight

Nick began focusing on dance as a career in high school, touring and training intensely during the summers. At 18, he joined Royal Caribbean as a dancer and traveled the world for two years. When he was 20, he moved to Las Vegas for a show on the Strip, dancing, acting in commercials and modeling.

Then a friend told him Cirque du Soleil was holding auditions. He showed up to find a crowd of 300 people — "100 looked just like me," he jokes — and thought it would never pan out. But he hung in there. Eight hours a day for two days, he performed before a panel of judges until only he and five others were left. The judges were so impressed, they hired all six performers.

Cirque was a great company, Nick says, with a lot of appreciation for its artists and ample training in not just dancing but also acting, makeup and yoga. It seems almost surreal when he looks back on that time, especially the period he performed with Viva ELVIS. "I would have to pinch myself" to realize it was really happening, he says.

But as he was rehearsing and performing, Nick was also preparing for the next phase in his life. He knew his future success depended on a college degree, and he began researching programs. Saint Leo's flexible online options, strong reputation and success stories appealed to him, as did the university's core values and religious roots.

Accelerating his degree

At first, Nick was juggling 10-hour days with Cirque with his online assignments. It was tough. After his Cirque contract ended, he decided to take a year off to concentrate only on his degree. Student advisor Emilio Favale put together a timeline for what he would need to do to complete his degree.

Nick signed up for four classes each semester for almost a year and immersed himself in student life. It was intense, he says, and he was working on his degree seven days a week. But Emilio was there with advice, encouragement and a solution to any problem he encountered. "If I had any questions, he answered," Nick says. "I never felt like I was pushed aside or made a number."

The effort paid off. Nick earned his degree and landed a job in a new field.

His friends may tease him saying, "What does a guy in Cirque want to do in the corporate world?" But it's a good fit, Nick says. He researched his company before applying and liked the culture, the opportunity for promotion and the work itself. He feels like what he does matters as he connects employers with talented employees. He surprised himself by moving back to Michigan, where he grew up, but he was ready to leave Vegas and he wanted to be closer to his family.

Throughout his journey, his parents always supported him. They provided him with strong roots and encouragement to pursue his dreams, no matter where it took him. Whether they were sitting in an audience as he performed or offering wisdom as he tackled college courses, they were his biggest cheerleaders. They kept him focused on the importance of his degree and the doors it will open in the years to come.

"Earning a degree is something that nobody can ever take away from me," Nick says.

Image credits: Courtesy Nick MacLeod

Other posts you may be interested in reading:

5 Warm And Fuzzy Reasons Adults Love Online Degree Programs

Saint Leo Online Degree Programs Rank Among U.S. News Best

Over 50 And Back To School

12 Support Services For Online Degree Students [Infographic]