One of Chester's most distinguished native sons has recorded a commencement message for the 2020 8th grade class at Chester Grade School, assuring them they can have a successful future if they start thinking about it now.
Professor J. Franklin Sharp, a member of the Chester High School Class of 1954, was invited to give the commencement address this year at Chester Grade School, exactly 70 years after he graduated 8th grade himself (and was class president).
The 83-year-old Sharp, who lives in New York City, was prevented by the pandemic from delivering the speech in person. So he boiled down his 12-minute address to five minutes, climbed into his cap and gown, set up a makeshift podium in his apartment and recorded himself talking to the students.
The speech can be seen at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qmms7kwBY-4.
Sharp is the founder of Sharp Seminars, a leading provider of training for Wall Street portfolio managers and investment analysts. His speech, titled "Keys to Your Future Financial Success," might seem aimed over the heads of 8th graders, but Sharp says, not at all.
His keys are simple ones, among them encouraging students to not drop out of high school, and in fact, go as far in education as your skills permit.
"When I was an 8th grader, I guess I thought I'd go to college but I never thought I'd go beyond a bachelor's degree," said Sharp on Tuesday from his New York apartment, which he hasn't left in two months. He holds a doctorate from Purdue.
His keys, he says, are all things 8th graders can appreciate, and if they don't, their parents will.
Don't be a high school dropout; go as far in school as you can; choose the right major -- something you like -- and graduate; get a good first full-time job; once you are working, save money out of every paycheck; and don't give up when you encounter a setback.
Sharp has spoken at two previous Chester 8th grade graduations and he is booked to speak at the 2024 CHS graduation, which will coincide with the 70th anniversary of his own commencement.
The 8th grade speech he gave 10 years ago is a particular favorite of his, and was well-received: As he was walking to his car afterward a woman on her porch across the way yelled over to him, "That was the best talk I ever heard in my life!"
Sharp's name is known at the high school, where the Professor Sharp Bench is in front of Colbert Gymnasium and the Professor Sharp Cafeteria and Entrance Lobby is just inside.
For 20 years he has funded three CHS scholarships in honor of his father, mother and sister, and a few years ago established a $500,000 fund to support the scholarships and provide CHS teaching support as well.
The 2024 high school graduation speech is his last scheduled appearance so far, but Sharp says he'll continue to speak at Chester graduations as long as he can.