TAMUC Gala Celebrates Six Outstanding Alumni

On a star-studded Saturday evening, the Texas A&M University-Commerce Alumni Association rolled out the red carpet for the annual Alumni Awards Gala. Guests gathered at the university's Sam Rayburn Student Center in an Oscars-themed event on April 27 to celebrate the shining stars of their alma mater: the 2024 recipients of the prestigious Gold Blazers and Distinguished Alumni Awards.

The six award recipients line up for a photo in front of a black curtain with gold and blue balloons above their heads.
Award recipients from L to R: Dr. Willie Johnson, Derryle Peace, Charles Hill, June Davis, Kader Kohou, Jack Cooke.
Photo by Tyler Holloway | Texas A&M University-Commerce Office of Marketing and Communications

Opening the program, University President Mark Rudin painted a vibrant picture of the university's growth and innovation, emphasizing that A&M-Commerce's stellar alumni base is an essential and unchanging component of the university's success.

“The constant is the excellence in our alums, as evidenced by folks in this room today…” Rudin said. “That is what this university has been built on and will continue to be built on forever and ever.”


Director of Alumni Engagement Amanda Lowe kicked off the awards segment of the program by announcing the 2024 Gold Blazer Award recipient, Dr. Willie F. Johnson, Jr.

Established in 1984, the Gold Blazer Award is presented annually to alumni who have demonstrated exemplary service to the A&M-Commerce Alumni Association and the university. The award encapsulates the motto of university founder Professor William Mayo: “Ceaseless Industry, Fearless Investigation, Unfettered Thought, and Unselfish Service to Others.”

“Our 2024 Gold Blazer honoree epitomizes the transformative power of education and leadership…” Lowe said. “Dr. Willie F. Johnson, Jr. has dedicated his career to education and community service…he inspires future leaders and nurtures communities.”

Dr. Willie F. Johnson, Jr. ('92, '01)

Video by Joe Shipman | Luminous Productions

Dr. Willie F. Johnson, Jr. of Lancaster, Texas, holds a Bachelor of Science in Kinesiology ('92) from East Texas State University (now A&M-Commerce), a Master of Science in Educational Administration ('01) from A&M-Commerce, and a Doctor of Education in Educational Leadership from Walden University.

Johnson is the principal of South Oak Cliff High School in Dallas ISD, serves as an adjunct professor at Grand Canyon University and operates the education consulting firm IMPACT. Recognized by the U.S. Congress and the Texas State Senate, he has earned numerous awards for his contributions to education.

During his administrative career, Johnson has successfully raised the academic performance of two low-performing schools and reduced racial achievement gaps. Under his guidance, South Oak Cliff High School emerged as a prominent institution in academics and athletics, achieving state championships and producing several college signees.


Lowe also announced five new Distinguished Alumni for 2024. The Distinguished Alumni honor has been presented annually since 1967 to an elite few who exhibit extraordinary distinction in their profession or life’s work.

The award also recognizes recipients for excellent service to A&M-Commerce. Each recipient advances the well-being of the university and fosters an appreciation for its rich heritage and its students, faculty, and administration.

2024 Distinguished Alumni recipients include:

William “Jack” H. Cooke ('81)

Video by Joe Shipman | Luminous Productions

Mr. Jack Cooke of Greenville, Texas, dedicated 40 years to a distinguished software engineering and management career. He holds a Master of Science in Computer Science from East Texas State University (’81) and an MBA from the University of Dallas.

Cooke began his career as a software programmer in support of the U.S. Space Program. He moved to Greenville, Texas, in 1975 to work at E-Systems (now L3Harris). At E-Systems, Cooke lead advanced technology programs and contracts with the U.S. Air Force. In 2005, he was appointed site executive, overseeing operations and programs at the Greenville facility.

Retiring in 2009, Cooke transitioned to academia, joining the A&M-Commerce College of Business faculty. Cooke remains actively involved with A&M-Commerce, serving on the College of Business Executive Advisory Board and participating in university projects.

In recognition of his service, he was honored with the title of Instructor Emeritus by The Texas A&M University System Board of Regents in 2023.

June Davis (’73)

Video by Joe Shipman | Luminous Productions

Ms. June Williams Davis of Fort Worth, Texas, is a proud Texarkana native. Davis holds a Bachelor of Science in Sociology and a Master of Education from East Texas State University (’73) (now A&M-Commerce) and A&M-Texarkana. With over 40 years in education, teaching in various districts across Texas, she retired as the director of Special Programs at Fort Worth Independent School District (ISD).

Davis made history as the first African American elected to the Crowley Independent School District Board of Trustees in 2003. She served as president from 2010 to 2019 and continued as a board member. Her community involvement extends to committees, associations, and boards focused on education, mental health, homelessness, and social justice.

Davis’s dedication to service has earned her multiple awards, including The Living Legends Award from The Beta Tau Lambda Chapter of Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity, Inc. and the Texarkana ISD Distinguished Alumni Award. Notably, a Crowley ISD elementary school was named in her honor in 2019.

Charles G. Hill ('73)

Video by Joe Shipman | Luminous Productions

Mr. Charles G. Hill of Tyler, Texas, graduated from Texas A&M University-Commerce with a Bachelor of Science in Education in 1973. After graduation, he began a distinguished career spanning nearly five decades with Texas Power and Light Company, later TU Electric, TXU, and Oncor Electric Delivery.

Hill transitioned to various roles within the utility company, including management in field operations and customer service. His career took him to ten different communities within the Oncor service territory, where he dedicated himself to community leadership and economic development.

Throughout his career, Hill served in numerous civic roles, including chairing Chamber of Commerce boards in Crockett, Paris, and Tyler. He was also Rotary Club president in Crockett and trustee of Lon Morris College.

Hill remains actively engaged, serving on boards including Hospice of East Texas, Texas College, and the University of Texas at Tyler development board. Hill also mentors young leaders in Tyler.

Kader Kohou ('21)

Video by Joe Shipman | Luminous Productions

Mr. Kader Kohou of Fort Worth, Texas, graduated from Texas A&M University-Commerce in 2021 with a degree in marketing while pursuing a football career. He played a significant role in Trinity High School’s football success, securing a district title in his senior season.

Transitioning to A&M-Commerce, Kohou excelled as a cornerback. As a four-year letterman, he played 44 games, tallying 113 tackles and five interceptions. He earned the 2021 Lone Star Conference Defensive Back of the Year and First-Team All-Conference titles.

In 2022, Kohou signed with the Miami Dolphins as an undrafted free agent, making a notable impact during his rookie season. Among his accomplishments, he lead all undrafted rookies in defensive stats. In 2023, he became the first undrafted rookie cornerback to start an NFL Playoff game since 2019. During his freshman season in 2017, he appeared in 11 games and was part of the squad that won the 2017 NCAA Division II Football National Championship.

Off the field, Kohou extends his impact through community involvement. Collaborating with the Miami Dolphins Youth Programs, he generously donates football equipment to Miami Central High School.

Mr. Derryle Peace ('74, '75)

Video by Joe Shipman | Luminous Productions

Mr. Derryle Peace of Dallas, Texas, holds a bachelor’s degree in psychology/sociology (’74) and a master’s degree in counseling (’75). Actively involved in Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity, Inc., he served as vice president and represented the Inter Fraternal Council during his senior year.

Throughout his career, Peace has been dedicated to youth and family services. From caseworker roles to executive director positions at nonprofits, he has spent over 15 years managing mentoring programs and fostering community engagement.

Peace’s commitment extends beyond professional roles. He has served on the United Way Speakers Bureau and held leadership positions in various community organizations, including as board chair for the La Sima Foundation, Inc., and as a community advisory member for the YMCA of Metropolitan Dallas.

As former executive director of the A&M-Commerce Alumni Association, Peace was pivotal in fundraising and constructing the Alumni Center.


To close the gala program, Lowe thanked the award recipients on behalf of A&M-Commerce.

“Your dedication, passion and achievements have not only brought you honor but have also inspired us all,” Lowe said. “You embody excellence, and your contributions to your fields, your communities, and our university serve as a beacon of inspiration. Your unwavering commitment sets a standard for us all to aspire to, and tonight we celebrate your accomplishments.”

Learn more about the A&M-Commerce Alumni Association and how to join.

View the event photo gallery.

Featured Photo: Kader Kohou and guests at the Alumni Gala. Photo by Tyler Holloway | Texas A&M University-Commerce Office of Marketing and Communications