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3 collect honorary Gainesville High diplomas
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Receiving honorary diplomas from Gainesville High School on Sunday were, from left, Jackie Wallace, Bill Coates and Mary Ellen Murray.

Three people were awarded honorary diplomas from Gainesville High School on Sunday.

Since 2009, the school has conferred honorary diplomas to individuals who support the school’s mission, enhance the quality of life for the greater community and are not graduates of the city’s high schools.

Receiving the honorary degrees at the baccalaureate service Sunday were Bill Coates, senior pastor at First Baptist Church; Mary Ellen Murray, who taught American history and senior law for 31 years at GHS; and Jackie Wallace, former president and chief professional officer for United Way.

The diplomas were conferred at a reception preceding the service at First Baptist Church.

• Coates graduated from Andrew Jackson High in South Carolina. He was president of the student government at Coker College, where he earned a degree in English and religion.  

He earned a Master of Divinity from Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary and doctorate in English from the University of South Carolina.  

He hosts communitywide events, is active with Habitat for Humanity and is a Rotarian.

• Murray earned an undergraduate degree from the University of Georgia and master’s degree from Emory University.  

She was twice named Teacher of the Year and STAR teacher six times. She also received the Kiwanis Youth Service Award and the Liberty Bell Award from the local bar association. Her nominator wrote, “she bleeds red elephant red.”

• Wallace graduated from Winder-Barrow High and Brenau University. She was in banking and finance, and she volunteered for United Way via committees and the annual campaigns.  

She left banking to become the chief financial officer of the United Way and, in 2007, was named president and chief professional officer.  

She helped raise, manage and grant millions of dollars for education, health and family financial stability initiatives. She also leads the Read-Learn-Succeed project.

“These are remarkable people who have shaped a vibrant community; it is our pleasure and honor to confer these honorary diplomas to those who make Gainesville an enviable place to live, learn, work and play,” GHS Principal Tom Smith said.

Gainesville High School was the first public high school in America to confer honorary diplomas. Through 2016, 27 have been conferred.

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