At age 53, Marvin Jones finally became the fireman he'd always dreamed of becoming.
"It's been a long struggle. I feel blessed. I'm almost closed to tears," he said before walking across the stage in Navy Pier's Grand Ballroom to shake hands with Mayor Rahm Emanuel.
Jones was among 98 new firefighters who graduated Thursday, 86 of whom were overlooked by city officials who used discriminatory practices in evaluating applicant scores for a 1995 entrance exam.
"It is my hope that we never, ever make those mistakes again," said Mayor Rahm Emanuel, stressing that the Chicago Fire Department should be as diverse as the city it serves.
After a series of back-and-forth legal battles over the years, Chicago was ordered in May 2011 to hire 111 black firefighters and pay a total of $30 million to nearly 6,000 clients listed in the class-action lawsuit known as the Lewis case.
Would-be firefighters who chose other career paths and those who chose to bypassed a "jobs lottery" six months later received cash awards of at least $5,000 per person.
Jones never took that payout, opting instead to follow his dream.
"We persevered. We're here today. We're graduating. We're about to be Chicago firefighters," said Jones, a postal worker for 33 years.
The Chicago Sun-Times reported last week it will cost Chicago taxpayers $78.4 million to settle the case -- twice as much as anticipated -- and that Chicago will borrow the money, compounding the cost.