As a Harper College student in the 1970s, John Blim managed the campus radio station and served as an on-air radio personality.
When he stepped to the podium nearly three decades later as a 2012 honored alumnus, the Louisville, Ky., resident carried with him a reminder of those transformational early days.
To some, Blim acknowledged as he held it in the air, the coiled microphone cord was just that.
To him, it was a lifeline to a new world.
"This launched ideas and a career," said Blim, whose 30-year television career has reaped 10 collaborative Emmy Awards. "And it all started at Harper College."
He relayed his story, and said a public thank-you to Harper for the difference it made in his life, at a reception last month honoring the college's six 2012 Distinguished Alumni.
The theme of inspiration was repeated throughout the event.
An Arlington Heights man who came to Harper as an adult student recalled the support of instructors and the class assignment that spawned the idea for an eventual successful, real-life business. Another recipient, who started at Harper at age 16, credited her former French professor with helping her develop the self-confidence she needed to succeed.
"I'm proud to say I'm an alumnus," said honoree Tom Kehoe, a Chicago-based event specialist whose projects have included the White House Halloween Party. "It helped me in so many ways. It prepared me for the next step, and that has been priceless."
The reception, which collectively saluted the achievements of the six award-winning alumni and the work of the faculty and staff who played a role in their education, was emceed by former honoree Jake Sadoff. Haley Reinhart, a Harper alumna, who rose to fame on "American Idol," was in the audience with her parents.
Since the 2008 inception of the Distinguished Alumni program, 28 former students -- including an actor on the daytime drama series "One Life to Live," a vice president with WBBM/CBS2 in Chicago, a mayor, a fire chief, a National Geographic-honored geoarchaeologist and the songwriter who penned Madonna's "La Isla Bonita" -- have been formally recognized.
"You honor all of us so much with your accomplishments," Harper President Kenneth Ender told the six 2012 honorees in comments that focused on the value of dogged hard work. "We're surrounded by a wealth of talent, persistence and incredible drive. From the halls of William Rainey Harper College come the men and women who will lead this nation."
This year's honorees are:
John H. Blim (Louisville, Ky.): Blim's successful 30-year career in television has seen numerous awards and recognitions, including 10 Emmys -- one of them for outstanding community service. In 2002, he became the vice president and marketing director of WHAS Crusade for Children, which raises more than $5 million annually for special needs children in Kentucky and southern Indiana. He's also helped raise needed relief funding for disasters including the Mississippi River flooding and the 9/11 terrorist attacks by harnessing the power of radio and television.
"Coming to Harper gave me the boost of confidence and purpose I needed," he said.
Charles Cann (New York, N.Y.): Cann is a writer, producer, director and sound engineer of projects including commercials, TV series and films. He is the author of "Tropical Ghana Delights," a cookbook on contemporary Ghanaian cuisine, and works as chef and creative director of the Tropical Ghana Foundation, which offers scholarship assistance and encouragement to keep Ghana's children in school. The concept began at Harper, when he launched a school supplies drive on campus for children in Ghana.
"There are so many faculty, staff and administrators I am grateful for," he said of his Harper experience.
Jim Inman (Arlington Heights): Inman launched Elite Athletic Development in 2006 with the premise that the everyday athlete deserves access to the same strength and conditioning training used by top-caliber collegiate and professional athletes. Today, his company boasts 10 performance coaches and more than 38,000 athlete training hours helping people eliminate health threats, lose weight and improve their overall quality of life. Inman came to Harper as an adult student uncertain about being on campus with 18-year-old freshmen, but "after meeting my positive professors," he said, "I knew I had made the right choice."
Tom Kehoe (Chicago): Kehoe is president and CEO of Kehoe Designs, a nationally sought-after design and event décor firm catering to luxury weddings and corporate and social events. His high-profile events have included the White House Halloween party, the 10th anniversary celebration for Chicago's Peninsula Hotel and multiple UNICEF galas. Kehoe sits on the board for the AIDS Foundation and DIFFA (Design Industry Fighting Aids). He called Harper a "great steppingstone" in his educational journey, and lauded the campus during the awards reception for its growth and evolution over the years.
Angela LeMay (Barrington Hills): LeMay is the chief financial officer at Refurbished Office Environments, a Chicago company focused on sustainable alternatives to the manufacturing of office furniture. After attending Harper, she earned a bachelor's in business administration and, later, an MBA from North Park University. She actively supports a number of organizations, including WINGS and McHenry County PADS, and sits on the board of directors for The Buddy Foundation and the advisory board of the Barrington Youth Dance Ensemble. LeMay was 16 when she arrived on Harper's campus.
"Harper taught me how to build confidence," she said, "an asset that has driven me to succeed and blossom in the business world."
Don Plass (Sleepy Hollow): Plass is the director of Code Enforcement for the village of Hoffman Estates, where he oversees plan review, building inspections, property maintenance, health inspections and annual commercial fire inspections. He was recently appointed to the International Code Council's Residential Energy Code committee, and has testified in support of various code-related bills and legislation. Plass' love for lifelong learning is in part what drove him to the college for his Building Code and Enforcement certificate.
"It was what I needed to get started," he said at the awards reception. "I really cherish this award."