System aims to honor outstanding alumni

Posted 3/8/19

PITTSBORO — Last June, while 626 Chatham County high school seniors took to local auditoriums and stadiums to accept their diplomas at graduation, a much smaller number of former graduates were …

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System aims to honor outstanding alumni

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PITTSBORO — Last June, while 626 Chatham County high school seniors took to local auditoriums and stadiums to accept their diplomas at graduation, a much smaller number of former graduates were also honored.

At Jordan-Matthews High School, Ed Spence, a 1956 graduate, received the school’s Distinguished Alumni honor. The night before, Chatham Central High School had bestowed the same honor on one of its own, 2008 graduate Justin Palmer, who since graduating from Central had studied sports medicine at UNC-Greensboro before becoming youth programs director at the county YMCA.

Chatham County Schools launched its Distinguished Alumni Program three years ago to honor the achievements of graduates like Spence and Palmer. The school system aims through the ongoing program to recognize the contributions of alumni to their profession, community, or outstanding sustained support of Chatham County Schools.

Nominations for new honorees from each high school in Chatham County are now being sought, with a March 15 deadline quickly approaching.

John McCann, public relations coordinator for the school system, is encouraging people to make nominations, which he said are slow to trickle in this year.

“This is the third year of the program,” McCann said. “In the first year, we distributed rather eye-catching cards containing information encouraging people to nominate candidates. We aired information on WNCA, too. This year, we also put information on WNCA and did a social-media campaign featuring Justin Palmer, who last year represented Chatham Central High School in being honored in the Distinguished Alumni Program.”

Despite the program’s reasonably high profile, McCann said, “we’re still not getting the number of nominations we expected.”

The 2019 program’s nomination period kicked off early last December and continues through noon on March 15. The names of finalists, selected by their schools on March 23, will be submitted to the Board of Education at the board’s April meeting. Approved finalists will be contacted following the April meeting to line up the details of their participation in commencement activities as Distinguished Alumni for 2019.

McCann stressed that the award “is not limited to our graduates who have gone on to become household names. I’d encourage people to look at the selection criteria, and I’m sure they’d be able to think of someone who deserves a nomination.”

Each school will have its own selection committee comprised of an administrator, a student, a member of the faculty, and a community representative. The committee will review nominations using a scoring rubric and will ultimately identify an honoree.

Honorees are recognized during the commencement ceremony for their respective high school alma mater. A photo of the alumnus or alumna is displayed at the school for the upcoming year, and the names of the recognized alumnus/alumna are engraved on the Distinguished Alumni plaque featured at each high school.

“Ideally,” said McCann, “recognizing what our graduates both have done and are doing will help our students better appreciate the value of a Chatham County Schools education.”

More information on the Distinguished Alumni Program, including forms to complete for the nominations process, is available at Chatham County School’s website with the following links: and

Submitted photo

Justin Palmer (pictured with Chatham Central High School teacher Karen Keilman), a 2008 Central graduate, was honored as a Distinguished Alumni last year. Palmer is a YMCA youth director. Chatham County Schools is aiming to honor additional alumni and is asking the community for help in finding nominees.


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