04/21/2004 at 01:00 AM EDT
Los Angeles Lakers' $19 million man, Shaquille O'Neal, 28, received his bachelor's degree from Louisiana State University on Friday, eight years after he dropped out to pursue -- successfully -- fame and fortune in pro basketball, movies and rap music. As university chancellor Dr. Mark A. Emmert told Shaq and his fellow grads to appreciative laughter at the commencement ceremony, "I'd like to thank Mr. O'Neal for dramatically increasing the starting salary of this graduating class." O'Neal is the most prominent of nearly 30 players (including Allan Houston and Larry Johnson of the New York Knicks) that the National Basketball Association says have completed their degrees during their professional careers. "I'm very proud of him," said Shaq's mom, Lucille Harrison, as quoted by The New York Times. Said the graduate himself: "For people who think money and fame are important, they are only a small piece of the pie. You need an education to feel secure."