Distinguished Alumnus Award recipient Billy Ocasio

Tuesday, September 18, 2018

Northeastern Illinois University presented National Museum of Puerto Rican Arts & Culture Chief Executive Officer Billy Ocasio with the Distinguished Alumnus Award during the Golden Gala Alumni Awards on Sept. 15 in Alumni Hall.

The award is the highest honor the University bestows upon alumni. As is tradition for winners of the Distinguished Alumnus Award, Ocasio (B.A. ’92 Board of Governors) will deliver remarks to the graduates during Commencement on Dec. 16.

“We cannot live in the past,” Ocasio said when he accepted the award. “We need to get up every day and say, ‘How is today going to be better than yesterday? How can I make today better for someone else?’”

Before his time with the National Museum of Puerto Rican Arts & Culture, Ocasio served as the senior advisor to Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn appointed to work on social justice issues. Prior to his appointment, Ocasio served as the 26th Ward alderman in the Chicago City Council.

During his speech, Ocasio recalled the old motto, “Live and let live.”

“I remember when I became a city councilman, I said, ‘We can’t live by that anymore,’” he said. “That motto has to be, ‘Live and help to live.’”

Ocasio is a lifelong resident of Humboldt Park, where he attended Von Humboldt Elementary School and Roberto Clemente Community Academy.

Northeastern honored four more individuals during the gala:

Alumni Service Award

Richard C. Lindberg

(B.A. ’74 History; M.A. ’87 History)

Lindberg is an award-winning author, journalist and lecturer who has written and published 19 books about Chicago history, politics, criminal justice, sports and ethnicity. In 2012, his memoir of growing up, titled “Whiskey Breakfast: My Swedish Family My American Life,” was named Non-Fiction Book of the Year by the Chicago Writer’s Association. His institutional history of Northeastern, “Northeastern Illinois University: The First 150 Years,” and a 2009 biography titled “The Gambler King of Clark Street: Michael C. McDonald and the Rise of Chicago’s Democratic Machine” were both honored by the Illinois State Historical Society. Lindberg is a past president of the Society of Midland Authors, the Illinois Academy of Criminology and is a member of the Northeastern Illinois University Alumni Advisory Board. 

Community Leadership Award

Shawn K. Woods

(B.A. ’98 Criminal Justice)

Woods is president and CEO of Shawn K. Woods & Associates, an organization committed to empowering businesses and individuals to unleash their full potential. An international trainer/facilitator, author and executive/life/career coach, he has spoken at more than 500 conferences including keynote presentations, bullying awareness seminars and leadership training to Fortune 500 companies, small business owners, government and non-profit organizations throughout the United States, Canada, Europe and Africa. He has served as a law enforcement officer, decorated detective, assistant director of human resources for the Illinois Board of Education, as well as an investigator for the Office of the Executive Inspector General for the State of Illinois.  

Outstanding GOLD Alumni Award

Leslie Dubin

(M.B.A. ’09 Business Administration)

Leslie Dubin teaches business, marketing, management and entrepreneurship courses at Oakton Community College. Along with business consulting, she is involved in academics, teaching and developing team management strategies. Dubin taught for several years in the Chicago Public Schools system. She served as vice president and operations manager for a Chicago-based textile firm, overseeing 200 employees at locations throughout the United States. In 2014, Dubin was awarded the Ray Hartstein Excellence in Teaching Award for Part-time Faculty. Despite major health issues that surfaced in 2016, Dubin has continued to teach and develop course material for her school.

Future Alumni Leader Award

Yadira Alonzo

(Current student, Anthropology)

Alonzo is active in Northeastern’s Student Food Pantry, the University’s Undocumented, Resilient, and Organized Club, and Beta Beta Beta Honor Society. She traveled to Memphis, Tenn., on an Alternative Spring Break Service Trip, and Mexico as a member of Dreamers without Borders. Most recently, Alonzo attended the U.S. Hispanic Leadership Institute, where she received the Dr. Juan Andrade Jr. Scholarship for Young Hispanic Leaders. She also earned a scholarship from the Illinois Latino Council on Higher Education. Alonzo volunteers at World Relief Chicago, working with a Syrian refugee family.