2015 Distinguished Alumni

Each year, the Alumni Association (HCCAA) will recognize an individual who through their accomplishments, both personally and professionally, personifies the values of the College which include a "can-do" attitude, a respect for diversity, and ethical decision-making.

2015 Distinguished Alumni Award Recipient

John Bierbaum delivered the 2015 commencement address, sharing his story about overcoming adversity. John is the seventh recipient of the annual award which recognizes individual career achievements and positive community impact among other accomplishments.

John Bierbaum
John Bierbaum

John suffered third-degree burns over 30 percent of his body only a couple of weeks into his first semester at Heartland Community College. A few days out of rehab, he returned to his classes with the support of his teachers and others on campus in part, because he felt he owed it to the donors who supported his presidential scholarship. The Normal West high school teacher was a finalist for Illinois Teacher of the Year in 2013 and he's worked with the McLean County Diversity Project that fosters understanding John's message to graduates of the Class of 2015 includes a list of five lessons he’s learned along the way.

#1: Strive to be the positive energy in the room

If there's anything more toxic than negativity in life – I don’t know what it is. Challenge yourself each and every day to seek out the best in people, build the capacity of others, and make the best of situations around you. Practice Positive thinking.

#2: Stop making excuses and use what you've earned today to become the person you want to be.

Too many times we find reasons to inhibit our ability to be who are, experience new things, and grow as human beings. So whether it's Drake's mantra YOLO, Horace's carpe diem or Andy Dufresne's advice that you better "get busy living or get busy dying" – from this day on commit to not looking back, not settling for less, and not allowing anything to stand in your way.

#3: Follow your passion.

You've probably heard the saying that if you do what you love, you'll never work a day in your life. Well – I'm here to tell you that after 10 years of teaching, it still surprises sometimes that I get paid to do what I do. Trust your gut, follow your heart, and pursue your passion.

#4: Take the time to learn how to ice skate.

Although my son told my wife that "daddy tries to be a good coach but is really slow at skating," learning to skate and helping to coach my son has probably been one of the most personally rewarding things I've done in my life. It's important to stop for a minute, rethink your priorities, and make time for the things in life that really matter.

#5: Have perspective.

When I was transferred to Springfield Memorial for burn treatment, my life was in danger. My family was hysterical, and my world seemed to be crashing down. Although I had cards, balloons, and visitors pouring in each day, all I could do was to feel sorry for myself – in thinking about what laid in store for me. One day I remember making some statement to a nurse along these lines and her telling me that the elderly guy next door to me had suffered double the amount of burns and would be lucky to ever leave the hospital. While I haven't had many such stark reminders, life often provides opportunities for us to realize that our time on this earth is precious – so go out there and be the best person you can be for the most people around you.

2015 Distinguished Alumni Award Recipient video

2015 Distinguished Alumni Award Recipient video transcript (PDF)

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Phone: 309-268-8587
Email: alumni@heartland.edu

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