When it comes to making a positive difference in peoples’ lives, Alderman Kelly Pettyjohn does just that every day she goes to work.
To honor her community commitment and impact, Pettyjohn was presented with Wilmington University’s first Distinguished Alumni Award at the university’s annual alumni board dinner, which was held December 2, 2019, at Sullivan’s Steak House in north Wilmington.
The newly created award will be given annually to a nominated WilmU alumnus who exemplifies compassionate leadership and is making a positive impact in their field and/or community. Pettyjohn’s selection as the first award winner was due to her compassionate approach to presiding over cases of city ordinance violations, which, in turn, have a long term, positive effect on those who appear in her courtroom.
An alderman is nominated by the Governor of Delaware and confirmed by the Delaware State Senate to decide all violations of city ordinances occurring within a city. In Laurel, Delaware, Pettyjohn presides over Court 35. Yet she strives to not intimidate those who find themselves in front of her bench.
“I’m honored to work in a small town where I can get to know the stories of those who enter the court for whatever reason,” says Pettyjohn. She has found solace in those stories, mainly because, at 17, she was a victim of domestic violence in a romantic relationship. That experience raised her empathy for those who feel frightened and helpless when they enter her court.
Pettyjohn holds two degrees from Wilmington University: a bachelor’s degree in Behavioral Science and a master’s degree in Administration of Justice. She is currently working toward her doctoral degree in WilmU’s Prevention Science program.
Pettyjohn summarized her WilmU story in her acceptance remarks. “Wilmington University provided me with the tools and the confidence to carry my life experiences and education beyond the classroom. Today, I am filled with gratitude for what the past has shown, what the present is providing, and for what the future may bring.”
“The WilmU community is proud to have Alderman Pettyjohn as the first recipient of our Distinguished Alumni Award,” says Dr. Tina Barksdale, vice president of Student Affairs and Alumni Relations. “She represents the many Wilmington University students who are persevering to complete their degrees in a field where they can make a big impact in the lives of their families, communities and beyond. She is passionate about providing victims of domestic violence with a voice to help them heal, and we are honored that she chose to make Wilmington University a part of her journey.”