Friends Rally Student to Graduation Finish Line
William “Will” Heybruck (’12, WW) always knew there was a way. Eleven years after financial struggles first stalled his dream of graduating from Embry-Riddle, 15 friends and alumni from as far away as Hawaii gathered on May 5 at the Daytona Beach Campus to see him walk across the commencement stage.
As he paused to look back at his cheering section, Heybruck says he realized his happiness was due to much more than the fact that he was finally graduating with a degree in professional aeronautics.
“I had not only accomplished a goal that I set, but along the way I had unknowingly and unintentionally developed the best support network anyone could ask for,” he says.
The financial troubles that would put Heybruck’s dream in limbo began after the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks. The stock market plummeted and his family lost the investments previously earmarked for Heybruck’s education. It wasn’t long before the Charlotte, N.C. native found himself returning home to get a job and save money.
He says his “stubbornness,” in addition to constant encouragement from his friends, played a key role in getting him back on track with his education. Known by most of his buddies as “fireman,” because of his volunteer service at the Mint Hill Volunteer Fire Department in North Carolina, the friends Heybruck made as a freshman at the Daytona Beach Campus would routinely call him and ask, “Fireman, when are you coming back?”
The answer hit Heybruck like a backdraft in a firestorm during the final round of a job interview with the Charlotte Fire Department in late 2002. When the chief asked Heybruck if he preferred to complete a two- or four-year degree in fire science, the firefighter realized he wasn’t interested in either. “I told him I want to finish my degree at Embry-Riddle.” Not surprisingly, Heybruck didn’t get the job; he went on to work as a medic for 10 months before making the move back to Daytona Beach.
Close friend Amanda Gregory (’04, DB), who often prodded Heybruck over the years to finish his degree, was one of the many friends who made the trip to Florida to support him at graduation. “A lot of people would have just stopped and given up and he didn’t. He committed himself to graduating,” she says.
It was in 2004 that Heybruck made the trek back to Florida. The journey proved more difficult than he first expected. A fire erupted in his truck while he was en route from Charlotte to the Embry-Riddle campus to re-enroll. Nearly penniless after repairing his vehicle, Heybruck pulled up weeks later at what he and his friends call “the legendary beach house.”
Gregory was the first to run out of the house and welcome him back. She would lend Heybruck, who was driving a gas-guzzling vehicle, her Toyota on occasions to help him save money on fuel. Friends Albert Roper (’04, DB) and Peter Nortrup (’04, DB) took care of the rent as Heybruck worked odd jobs, cutting grass and bar-tending.
A boon for the returning student came when the university offered him a position as a staff safety dispatcher. This provided him the benefit of attending two classes a semester without charge. It was slow going, but he also continued to fly, thanks to a reduced rate with the employee Eagle Flying Club. Friends Kristoffer Heimberger (’06, DB) and Adam Wright (’07, DB) came to the rescue to instruct Heybruck, as he pursued his multi-engine certification at an off-campus location. He completed his rating, just in time for the hiring boom of 2007.
“Doors were constantly opening for me, but it required a door closing to find those newly opened doors,” Heybruck says. “The reason I’m forever indebted to my friends, is that they showed me those open doors when I needed them.”
Newly hired at Piedmont Airlines in 2007, thanks to a recommendation from Steven Garin (‘04, DB), Heybruck’s educational pursuits went back on hold. “Life was going to be grand,” he recalls. “I would figure out how to finish my degree later.”
Still dreaming of a career at a major airline or becoming an officer in the National Guard, he decided to return to his studies in 2008 at Embry-Riddle’s Worldwide Campus. Another obstacle reared its head, however, when Heybruck discovered he couldn’t enroll until he finished rehabilitating his loans, which had gone into default. A year later, he was finally back in class.
“It would have been easy to justify giving up, but I knew that feeling of emptiness wouldn’t go away without finishing it,” Heybruck says. “I channeled my inner stubbornness and blocked out all negative influences to create the focus I needed to finish my degree.”