On Fri., Nov. 8, Oak Park and River Forest High School will present the 2019 Tradition of Excellence awards to three alumni. Established by the class of 1982, the award is presented annually to alumni or former students who have distinguished themselves professionally and who, through their accomplishments, have brought great credit to their alma mater. This year’s honorees are:
Maci Peterson Philitas
Class of 2005
Maci Peterson Philitas is co-founder and CEO of On Second Thought (OST), the definitive delay-recall app that allows users to retract a text after hitting “send.” Launched in 2014, the mobile app has generated more than $1 million and is used in 190 countries. In her role as CEO, Philitas drives OST’s strategy; her vision now is to create the next operating system for messaging.
As an entrepreneur and respected thought leader, Philitas is a frequent lecturer, subject-matter expert, and adviser on entrepreneurship, innovation, and diversity. She has been named to several notable lists, including BBC 100 Women, Inc.’s 30 Under 30, the San Francisco Business Times 40 Under 40, and the Washington Business Journal 40 Under 40. She has been profiled by Inc., Forbes, NPR, The Washington Post, BuzzFeed, Black Enterprise, Fox, WGN, Oak Leaves, and many other media outlets.
Philitas earned her bachelor's in public relations and advertising from Chapman University in 2009, and was named Chapman’s 2017 Distinguished Young Alumna of the Year. She resides in Casablanca, Morocco, with her husband.
Nia I. Wordlaw
Class of 1993
Nia Wordlaw is a commercial airline pilot with more than 20 years of experience in the aviation industry. She holds a unique position in the field, where fewer than 1 percent of commercial airline pilots in the United States are African-American women.
Wordlaw’s interest in flying began at the age of 10. Today she inspires others through Sisters of the Skies, a nonprofit that she co-founded to cultivate and promote minority women in the aviation industry through scholarship, mentorship, and emotional support.
Wordlaw was featured in the 2015 PBS film American Masters: The Women’s List, a documentary featuring 15 trailblazers such as Alicia Keys, Madeleine Albright, and Nancy Pelosi. She received the 2016 Egretha Award from African American Women in Business magazine, presented annually to extraordinary African-American women. She also was honored at the 2018 Council for Urban Professionals, for her extraordinary drive to inspire the next generation of young professionals.
Wordlaw is married to her high school sweetheart. They live near Houston, Texas, with their two children.
Howard P. Willens
Author, Attorney, and Historian
Class of 1949
Howard P. Willens is the author of the 2013 book History Will Prove Us Right: Inside the Warren Commission Investigation into the Assassination of John F. Kennedy–the only book ever written on the subject by a senior member of the commission staff. He was a young attorney at the Department of Justice when he was asked to help organize the commission a week after Kennedy’s assassination. Eventually Willens was involved in every aspect of the commission’s efforts. He went on to serve as the executive director of the President’s Commission on Crime in the District of Columbia from 1965 to 1966.
Willens attended the University of Michigan and Yale Law School. He served in the U.S. Army before beginning his legal career at a Washington, D.C., firm in 1959. Willens was a partner in Wilmer, Cutler & Pickering from 1967 through 1994, where his practice included complex litigation and appellate work. In 1972, he was retained by the people of the Northern Marianas Islands to represent them in their negotiations to become a U.S. commonwealth. This assignment led to four-decades-long relationship, concluding with his service as special legal counsel to the governor of the Northern Mariana Islands from 2006 to 2009. Willens has co-authored three books about U.S. policy in the Western Pacific.