Former Chester Grade School and Chester High School student James Franklin Sharp was recognized in the Fall 2020 edition of the University of Illinois Alumni Magazine for his rapidly growing reputation as a "graduation speech guru."
Sharp is the son of the late James Albert Sharp and Edna Mae Slack-Sharp. He and his sister, Rosanna Sharp-Myers, grew up in Chester and attended CGS and CHS. After graduating from CGS in 1950 and CHS in 1954, Sharp attended the University of Illinois.
Sharp studied industrial engineering and graduated from U of I with a B.S. in 1959. He continued to study industrial engineering at Purdue University, earning a master's degree in 1961 and a doctorate in 1966. By 1979 Sharp had become an expert in finance and was considered a certified professional in management and accounting from Purdue. In 1980 he became a Chartered Finance Analyst and he was certified in financial management in 1997. In 2009 Sharp was honored as the Outstanding Purdue Alumnus of the Year.
In 2000 and 2010, Sharp returned to his alma mater at Chester Grade School to give graduation remarks to the eighth-grade graduation classes. In 2004 and again in 2014 Sharp was the guest speaker at the Chester High School graduations.
"I was supposed to return to my old grade school alma mater this past May of 2020 to give the graduation speech at Chester Grade School, but the COVID-19 pandemic had other ideas," Sharp said.
"I was the president of my class in 1950 at Chester Grade School and had to give a talk at that graduation ceremony. Now, 70 years later, I got to give a commencement speech to the CGS Class of 2020. Unfortunately it had to be virtually, and I had never made a video recording of a speech before."
In his address, Sharp made several recommendations to the eighth-grade graduates including: 1) Don't drop out of school; 2) Go as far as you can in higher education; 3) Choose a major and college that are right for you; 4) Get a good first full-time job and perform it well; 5) Save money and invest it prudently; and 6) Do not give up after a setback.
Sharp is scheduled to return to Chester in 2024 to give the Chester High School commencement speech. That will be the 70th anniversary of his own graduation from CHS, and he is looking forward to making another appearance at his high school alma mater.
Sharp has been a financial, accounting, and investment professional throughout his career and was a professor at Rutgers University, New York University, and Pace University. He also held management positions at AT&T.
Sharp began his own business in 1986 and founded Sharp Seminars in New York. He loves providing training to Wall Street portfolio management and investment analysts. To this date, Sharp maintains a very busy and extremely reputable business that has served investment specialists for decades.
Sharp told the Herald Tribune that Alumni Magazine Senior Editor David Alan Scott hired Bill Bike to write the lighthearted article to brighten-up this otherwise gloomy COVID-19 pandemic period.
Sharp said. "The University of Illinois prepared me well and I enjoy sharing my experiences and years learning with others. I especially enjoy returning to Chester, Illinois, where I got my educational start at CGS and CHS. I look forward to 2024 when I can one again address the graduating class at Chester High School."
In closing, Sharp said, "The cap and gown that I was wearing in my May speech to the Chester Grade School Class of 2020 has since appeared in nine different newspaper articles and two different alumni magazines."
"Since the pandemic started last year, I have basically spent most of my time in my New York apartment. I exercise in my building and have my food and other items delivered to me. I enjoy talking to others and visiting on the phone or online, but I have not really been out of my building since the COVID-19 restrictions began."
"I still love being the go-to guy for inspirational speeches and I still love my alma mater at Chester High School and will continue to give back to the place where it all started."
In recent years Sharp has donated more than a half-million dollars to CHS, where he now sponsors three annual college scholarships. He also recently donated another $50,000 to CHS to be used for classroom improvements.
The cafeteria at CHS is now named for Sharp, as is the entrance to the lobby of the Colbert Memorial Gymnasium.
A $500,000 donation to CHS has allowed the district to establish a Charitable Giving Fund with which to establish a perpetual endowment. This fund will help to support teachers' classroom activities.
The fund will also fund the ongoing Sharp college scholarships, which are valued at $2,000 each. The money generated by the perpetual endowment is predicted to generate approximately $25,000 per year.