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New York City professor sends graduation video to hometown of Chester
Chester Grade School

New York City professor sends graduation video to hometown of Chester

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James Franklin Sharp

James Franklin Sharp, a 1950 graduate of Chester Grade School, recorded the 2020 graduation speech in his New York City apartment.

The eighth grade class of Chester Grade School will experience setbacks, including the cancellation of the graduation ceremony, but if the students stay in school and work hard they can be successful, advises Professor James Franklin Sharp, class of 1950.

Sharp, 83, had planned to give a speech at the school’s graduation ceremony Thursday in his Randolph County hometown, which is about 60 miles southeast of St. Louis. He was the commencement speaker in 2000 and 2010, marking the 50th and 60th anniversaries of his own graduation — when he gave the address as class president.

Instead, Sharp sent a video to this year’s class from his New York City apartment, where he has been staying in isolation since March because of the coronavirus pandemic.

“I like to tell them things I wish I had known,” Sharp said. “The typical graduation talk says ‘Go on and follow your dreams,’ which is OK, but I try to be more practical with things they really should know.”

In the video, Sharp wears a cap and gown as he shares his six keys to financial success:

• Don’t drop out of high school.

• Go as far in higher education as you can.

• Choose the major and college that are right for you, if you go to college, and graduate.

• Get a good first full–time job, and perform it well.

• Save and prudently invest.

• Do not give up after a setback.

Sharp’s father dropped out of school to go to work after eighth grade and always encouraged his son and daughter Rosanna to go further, inspiring rule No. 1.

Sharp graduated from Chester High School in 1954 and went on to become a professor of business at Rutgers University, New York University and Pace University. He also held management positions at AT&T. In 1986, he founded Sharp Seminars for training Wall Street analysts and investment managers, which he plans to resume once stay-at-home orders are lifted.

“I’ve sort of gotten used to being isolated and realized I’m not alone anymore, most everyone else is doing something similar,” Sharp said.

He earned his bachelor’s degree from the University of Illinois and master’s and doctorate degrees from Purdue University.

While Sharp has given money to the universities, he also has donated $550,000 to the Chester School District for field trips, computers and an annual scholarship fund. The high school’s cafeteria is named in his honor.

“I realized that money could have a much bigger impact on a high school than a college,” Sharp said. “What I give to a high school is much more meaningful and they’re much more appreciative.”

Three Sharp Scholarships are awarded annually in honor of his father, mother and sister. The $2,000 scholarships go to one student whose parent works at the Menard Correctional Center, one who is studying to be a teacher and another to a high school cheerleader.

Sharp’s devotion to his hometown “speaks volumes as far as how close-knit the community is and what it meant to him that he continues to support us,” said Brian Pasero, superintendent of the 1,000-student Chester School District. “The generosity is overwhelming.”

Sharp also has returned to give graduation anniversary speeches at Chester High in 2004 and 2014. He plans to be back in 2024, to make sure this year’s eighth graders followed his No. 1 rule: Don’t drop out of high school.

Southern Illinois schools maintain graduation pomp in unusual circumstances

Blythe Bernhard • 314-340-8129

@blythebernhard on Twitter

bbernhard@post-dispatch.com

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