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Chapel Hill Mayor Visits Glenwood Elementary School

“How did you feel when you met President Obama?”

“Were you ever in Girl Scouts?”

“What’s the best part about being a mayor?”

These were just a few of the many questions Glenwood Elementary School (GES) third graders asked of Mayor Pam Hemminger during her recent visit to the school.  

Mayor greets GES student Each year, third grade students at GES study Local Government and even run for Student Council positions, so what better way to learn about leadership than to hear from the mayor herself!  Upon her arrival, Student Ambassadors greeted Hemminger with smiles and welcoming words in both Chinese and English as they guided the mayor to the media center where she spoke with the entire third grade. Hemminger entertained students and teachers alike with many interesting facts about our town (Did you know Chapel Hill is in the top 35 cities in NC in terms of population?), and her role as mayor (Did you know that one of the five requirements for being mayor is having $5.00 in cash?)

In response to questions from students, Hemminger shared highlights, such as meeting both President Obama and James Taylor, as well as the challenges that come with the job. Hemminger discussed the lack of a plan for affordable housing when she took office, and how she has worked to make improvements even when there isn’t enough money to do all the things she would like to accomplish.  

When Katie asked, “How does it feel to have such an important job?” Hemminger shared, “It can be scary sometimes -- you have to make a lot of speeches in front of people.” Hemminger described an incident when she was asked to speak in front of a group of 800 people without having time to prepare. She also shared the feeling of awe that hits her each time she pulls into her reserved parking space at Town Hall, where she said she thinks, “How did a mother of four end up as the mayor of the town I love?”

Another student, Amira, asked, “What did you want to be when you were a child?”  

Hemminger explained, “I’m not sure if I knew!  Maybe a teacher…” She went on to describe the variety of opportunities she explored in the computer industry, with garbage truck manufacturing, and in the nonprofit sector, before becoming interested in being mayor. She explained it was her children who inspired her to run by saying, “Mom, you’ve always told us to be the change you want to see in the world.”  

Students wanted to know if she had ever been on TV or had a fancy car, and the mayor admitted that she recently upgraded to her first hybrid vehicle in place of her “Mom Van.”  She added she does TV interviews each Wednesday, as well as a weekly radio interview with WCHL, to update the public about her work.

Delaney was curious about the “best part” of being mayor. Hemminger shared she loved getting to meet people, hearing about all the good things going on in the community.  One fun story involved riding in the holiday parade. Hemminger didn’t know until she got there that she would be asked to ride on the top of the new fire truck ladder, and even though she doesn’t like heights, she said it was “fun!”  

When a student named Daniel asked about who has influenced her, Hemminger told students about the recent celebration in honor of Howard Lee, the first African-American mayor of Chapel Hill.  She shared how he offered to answer any questions she had after she took office, and that he has been a great mentor for her.

As students prepared to return to class, Hemminger closed with these words: “What should you do when you turn 18?  Register to…”

Mayor signs autographs at GES “VOTE!” yelled the children. Later, a mob of students gathered around the mayor, asking for her autograph as they headed out the door.  

At the end of the session, Hemminger told the teachers these visits to schools are one of her favorite parts of being mayor.  As the Student Ambassadors walked her back to the main office, they shared how they really enjoyed learning about the five requirements of running for mayor, as well as the fact that Hemminger had been elected twice and served for three and a half years so far.

What’s next?  Maybe third grade conversations this month will include new phrases such as “sustainability,” “fare-free busing,” and “affordable housing.”  And maybe a few aspiring leaders, currently studying at GES, will look back on that mayoral visit as “the day it all started.”