Class of 2024 Student Speaker, Service Award Winner Announced

Joliet Junior College (JJC) announces Ashley “Ash” Klinder and Hailey Tannheimer as the 2024 student commencement speaker and Student Service Recognition Award winner, respectively.  

Each year the graduation committee accepts nominations from faculty and staff for students with exceptional stories, achievements and service contributions acquired during their time at JJC for recognition at the annual commencement ceremony.  

Amazing, energetic, positive and determined are just a few words faculty and peers at  (JJC have used to describe Klinder.

Klinder is a first-generation college student who initially attended JJC to study business but briefly returned to the workforce. Eventually, Klinder returned to JJC with a renewed sense of purpose.  

“I was determined to find my place and my education, and I found that and so much more at JJC,” said Klinder.

Almost immediately after enrolling at JJC, Klinder quickly became an integral part of the Sustainability Union after learning about the group from her advisor, professor Cheryl Heenemann. Klinder worked tirelessly with the sustainability team in her progressive roles as student member, student worker and student intern. Her hard work resulted in many successful annual programs and events, culminating in the introduction of JJC’s inaugural Repair Cafe, one of only six in the state. The inaugural event successfully repaired over 50 items brought in by the public, showcasing the community’s dedication to sustainability.

“Ash is not waiting to change the world, she is already doing it!” said Maria Rafac, professor of architecture, engineering and construction and Office of Sustainability coordinator. “Ash is seen as a leader not only among her peers, but also with the faculty and staff that she interacts with daily.”

Beyond the Sustainability Union, Klinder was also involved in student clubs, including Active Minds, Wordeater literary magazine and Pride Alliance. She also conducted undergraduate research with professor John Griffis on stream ecology and is part of the National Wildlife Federation and Mutual of Omaha Wild Kingdom Grant Research team.

“Sustainability is really where I found my people,” said Klinder. “All of my experiences and activities at JJC have solidified my belief in the goodness of people.”  

Klinder will graduate with an associate in science and a specialization in biology. Klinder plans to continue her education in sustainable development and conservation ecology at a four-year institution, aligning with her passion for preserving the environment for future generations.  

Hailey Tannheimer will receive the 2024 Student Service Recognition Award, an acknowledgement of the countless hours spent providing guidance and support during coaching and teaching sessions to Special Olympic athletes and elementary students.  

Tannheimer will graduate with her associate of arts in elementary education and received a full tuition honors program scholarship to attend Elmhurst University in the fall. She feels especially prepared to become an elementary school teacher and someday, a principal, thanks to the experiences JJC provided. 

“I have learned that JJC cares about their student’s whole career, not just their time at the College, which makes me feel like I have a support system with me wherever I go,” said Tannheimer.  

Tannheimer was an active member of the JJC Honors Program and Phi Theta Kappa. She also applied her passion for teaching in the gym, spending countless hours in the weight room with Special Olympic athletes.  

“My service work is incredibly meaningful because I get to see a measurable difference in the quality of life for both my athletes and their parents,” Tannheimer said.  

Tannheimer credits the support of several professors for her success at JJC, but is particularly grateful for the dedication of Jack Haines, professor of English and world languages and Honors Program coordinator.  

“There are numerous professors and advisors who have helped me during my time at JJC, but none have been as influential as Jack Haines,” she said. “Professor Haines has helped me conduct three large research projects and was influential in my enrollment and scholarship at Elmhurst. I am forever grateful for his commitment and dedication to his students.”  



JJC will celebrate the class of 2024 on Friday, May 17 at 4 p.m. at the Event Center at Main Campus, 1215 Houbolt Road. More information about the graduation event can be found by visiting the graduation webpage. Media inquiries shoudl be directed to Katherine Smith, communications and media relations manager, at 

News & Events at JJC