2017 Distinguished Alumni Awards

On Friday, March 31, 2017 during Reunion Weekend, the Alumni Association will honor outstanding alumni and non-alumni friends for their service to the School and community. Mark your calendar, as the Distinguished Alumni Awards event is one of the highlights of the school year! The awards are as follows: 

  • Distinguished Honorary Alumnus Award: This award honors a non-alumnus who has been significantly involved with Kinkaid and has made a difference in our community.
  • Distinguished Alumnus Award: This award honors an alumnus who has provided extraordinary service to the community or has achieved outstanding personal or professional success and is over 40 years of age.
  • Distinguished Young Alumnus Award: This award honors a young alumnus, age 40 or under at the time of nomination, with a significant record of career achievement in their chosen field and a promise for future success. 
  • The Outstanding Service Award: New this year, this award is presented to an alumnus who has had a longstanding relationship with the School and has demonstrated exceptional commitment and service to Kinkaid’s alumni. 

Congratulations to the 2017 Distinguished Alumni Honorees!

Click here to view the 2017 Distinguished Alumni Awards videos.

Distinguished Honorary Alumna: Harriett Vatsures Semander


Harriett Vatsures Semander was born in 1933, the youngest of four children, to Greek Orthodox immigrant parents. Throughout high school, she received four National Scholastic League Art Awards and was inducted into the National Honor Society. She graduated in 1950, and was awarded a PTA scholarship to study art at Southern Methodist University. Later, Harriett began a business career at Texaco Oil Company, but still enjoyed sketching portraits as a hobby. Before she married and moved to Houston in 1960, Harriett lived in Europe for four months and toured the Scandinavian countries.

In 1973, Harriett joined Kinkaid's Lower School as a fourth grade aide. In addition, she assisted in the business office during the summer months, and eventually secured the position of Middle School Registrar/Secretary and School Nurse under Principal Arthur Goddard. As the part-time nurse, Harriett realized the importance of a school healthcare program and successfully advocated for Kinkaid to hire a full time RN and construct an infirmary for the students. In addition, Harriett was at the forefront of appealing to the School to computerize report cards and grading. 

After a personal tragedy, Harriett organized a crime victims awareness community service project to educate and sensitize middle school students to the violence in our city. This project won the Becky Reed Award from The National Organization of Parents of Murdered Children and was made available for other schools to use nationwide.

Harriett's volunteer work as an advocate for crime victims' rights in the Texas Department of Criminal Justice (TDCJ) and via Legislation was unmatched. From 1982-2005, she served on several crime victims committees and boards including: TDCJ Victims Advisory Committee, Parents of Murdered Children, Justice For All and Mayoral Task Forces on Crime. It was Harriett's efforts that ultimately led to the creation of a separate crime victim's division within the TDCJ. Furthermore, Harriett represented victims and testified before the state Legislature to change important laws, especially the mandatory early release law of violent offenders. 

In 2005, in recognition of her contributions to uphold victims' rights, Harriett received the national Paul H Chapman Award from the Foundation for Improvement of Justice and the Leon Goldstein Award from Houston Crime Stoppers. Houston Mayor Bill White proclaimed March 1, 2005 as Harriett Semander Day. She also participated in two Crime Victim/Inmate mediation programs at Jester II Prison (Sycamore Tree and Bridges To Life).

Harriett is the widow of former Kinkaid Master Math Teacher Zahari (Zack) Semander. They have four children: Elena Semander '79Maria Semander Crawford '82JoAnna Semander Nicolaou '84John Semander '88, and five grandsons: Ace Nicolaou '17Zack Nicolaou '20 and Pete Nicolaou '23, and Daniels and Zane Crawford who live in California. Harriett has retired as a spokesperson for victims' rights and currently spends her time ministering to widows and foster children. She is grateful for the blessings in her life and gives thanks to the Grace of God for her strength and courage over the years.

Distinguished Alumna: Erika Green Swafford ’90


Erika Green Swafford is currently a Co-Executive Producer on ABC’s “How to Get Away With Murder.” The television series has garnered Golden Globe and Critic’s Choice nominations as well as an historic Emmy win for its show’s lead, Viola Davis. In 2015, Erika won a prestigious NAACP Image Award for writing in a TV Drama and was nominated for another award in the same category in 2016. Previously, she worked on "The Mentalist" for CBS where she spent six seasons on the writing staff of the highly rated show after completing the Warner Bros. Writer’s Workshop. During her rise at “The Mentalist”, she was a part of the WGA’s inaugural Writer’s Access Project and participated in the CBS Women Writer’s Showcase. 

Erika began her career not in entertainment, but in the hospitality industry after graduating from the School of Hotel Administration at Cornell University where she lettered in Track and Field and was a part of the team that won the Indoor Heptagonal Championships her freshman year. She went on to earn an MBA at the Anderson School of Business at UCLA and used the degree to transition into entertainment. 

After graduate school, Erika joined Oxygen Cable Network before its launch, working on the production side before becoming an executive in their Acquisitions and Co-productions department. The department was responsible for bringing shows like “Snapped”, “Talk Sex with Sue Johanson”, and the reboot of “Absolutely Fabulous” to air, as well as creating the network’s movie block and documentary shows. In addition to writing for television, Erika has written and performed multiple pieces on stage and has had several of her works included in the Los Angeles Women’s Theatre Festival, 15 Minutes of Femme, the All Girl Revue and Write Club.

Born in Washington D.C., Erika spent her formative years in Houston where she developed her enduring love of theatre arts at the Kinkaid School. Her sister Jessica Swafford Marcella ’98 is also a Kinkaid graduate. In her spare time, Erika teaches cooking classes, participates in philanthropy through Angelenos 4 LA, Step Up Los Angeles, mentors young women and girls of color and is involved in other civic endeavors focused on the betterment of the lives of minorities in the greater Los Angeles area.

Distinguished Young Alumnus: Casey Paul Kaplan ’94


Casey Paul Kaplan is an Assistant General Counsel and Director with Nike, Inc., in Beaverton, Oregon. At Nike, Casey manages global litigation and arbitration and conducts internal investigations for the company. Previously, he served as an attorney in the Division of Enforcement with the United States Securities and Exchange Commission in Fort Worth, Texas, where he investigated allegations of accounting fraud, stock market manipulation, and foreign bribery by publicly traded companies. Prior to his government service, Casey was an attorney with the international law firm of K&L Gates LLP, serving as a member of the government enforcement and commercial litigation practice groups. 

While at K&L Gates, Casey worked on a case that was pivotal to his career. From 2011 until 2013, he managed the habeas corpus litigation on behalf of Texas Death Row inmate Alfred Dewayne Brown. Mr. Brown spent 10 years on Death Row for a crime he didn't commit. While managing the case, Casey and his colleagues uncovered the critical piece of evidence that led to the exoneration of Mr. Brown and to his freedom – a phone record that was never turned over by the Harris County District Attorney and which supported Mr. Brown's alibi. Casey personally negotiated an agreement with the Harris County District Attorney's Office whereby the DA recommended that Mr. Brown have his conviction overturned by the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals. It was the first instance of agreed relief in a capital murder case – without DNA evidence – by the Harris County DA in decades. 

During his years at Kinkaid, Casey was a varsity wrestler and was involved in the arts, specifically drama, as well as the Latin and Culture Clubs. Casey attended the University of Mary Washington and then Houston Baptist University, graduating in 1999 with a B.A. in English & Marketing. He later attended the University of Texas School of Law and graduated in 2007 with honors. He is married to Dr. Amanda Russell-Kaplan of Bakersfield, California, and, together, they have two children, Crawford and Isla. Casey and his family reside in Portland, Oregon. 

Outstanding Alumni Service Award: Dunbar N. Chambers Jr. ’53


Dunbar N. Chambers Jr. was born on November 4, 1934 in New Orleans, Louisiana. He moved to Houston in 1945 and attended Kinkaid when the school’s campus was still located on Richmond Ave. Dunbar graduated from Kinkaid in 1953 and he subsequently attended Georgia Tech University and the University of Texas.

Following college, Dunbar joined the Farnsworth and Chambers Company as an estimator. F&C was a multi-state construction firm founded by his father, Dunbar Chambers, Sr. Dunbar’s father was a member of the Kinkaid Board of Trustees from 1949 – 1954 and held the position of Board Chair during the 1953-54 school year. Dunbar Sr. was also part of the committee that made the decision to move Kinkaid to its current campus in Memorial.

From 1957 to 1978, Dunbar focused his efforts on construction and commercial real estate development in Houston, while simultaneously operating both a construction company in Honduras working on major infra-structure and road projects in that country, as well as running a Caterpillar machinery dealership. In 1978, Dunbar started an aggregates extraction and mining operation west of Houston, which has serviced the greater Houston metro area for the last 43 years. 

In addition to graduating from Kinkaid, Mr. Chambers has been a very involved Falcon for many years. He has served Kinkaid in several capacities, including being one of the founding members of the Kinkaid Alumni Association Board and serving as Board Chair during the 1991-92 school year. Dunbar is also one of the remaining members of the Kinkaid Richmond Guard. Dunbar’s brother John Chambers (fs) attended Kinkaid and his sisters Erminie Chambers Chapman ’49 and Ruth Chambers Lewis ’47 both graduated from Kinkaid. Three of Mr. Chambers’ children (Dunbar Chambers ’77, Clayton Chambers ’78 and Patti Chambers Kohler ’81), as well as three grandchildren (Andrew Chambers ’05, David Chambers ’09 and Alexandra Gol-Chambers ’10), along with several nieces, nephews and other relatives have all graduated from Kinkaid. Dunbar is married to Trish Chambers whose son Brett Lum ’86 also graduated from Kinkaid. Dunbar youngest son Craig, as well as Trish’s other two sons, Brady and Mark, all attended St. John’s. 

Click here to view the list of past recipients.

Click here to view the 2016 Distinguished Alumni Awards videos.

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