Invited Guests

Alex Highsmith

Alex Highsmith (Samuel Alexander) was born in Wilmington, North Carolina on August 7, 1997. Alex was educated in the New Hanover County School system, graduating from Eugene Ashley High School in 2015. He excelled athletically at Ashley, playing football and baseball for four years and basketball during his senior year. Although he was a unanimous 1st team all-conference linebacker as a senior, Alex received no Division 1 FBS scholarship offers. Alex was given the opportunity to walk-on to the football team at UNC-Charlotte in 2015. He played four years for Charlotte (2016-2019), earning an athletic scholarship in 2017. Alex was a 2-year starter, being named 1st Team All-Conference in 2018 & 2019 and 3rd Team All American in 2019, becoming the school’s first AP All American. Alex was drafted in the 3rd Round of the 2020 NFL Draft by the Pittsburgh Steelers (pick 102). He began his rookie season as a starter on special teams and a significant contributor off the bench as an outside linebacker. Following a season ending knee injury to starting outside linebacker Bud Dupree, Alex was thrust into the starting lineup Week thirteen against the Washington Football Team. He started the last six games for the Steelers. The highlights of his rookie season included an interception against the Baltimore Ravens and sacks against the Dallas Cowboys and the Cleveland Browns. He was named to several NFL All Rookie Teams including Pro Football Focus and The Draft Network.

Alex graduated from UNC-Charlotte in 2020 with a Bachelor of Science Degree in Exercise Science. He is a devout Christian. Alex participated in the Fellowship of Christian Athletes at UNCC and was a member of Elevation Church University City in Charlotte. He has founded the Alex Highsmith Family Foundation which will work to improve the lives of young people in Wilmington and Pittsburgh. Alex is the son of Sam and Pam Highsmith, two long time New Hanover County School educators. He has one sister, Lauryn Highsmith, who is a recent graduate of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

Rachard McIntyre

For Rachard McIntyre art is the most fulfilling part of his life. Since preschool, he has been drawing pictures of images which impressed him upon seeing them.  As a toddler, growing up in Brooklyn, he drew the Manhattan Skyline of New York City. He developed a greater love for art by learning more about style and techniques in school art classes while also excelling in math and English.

Many of Rachard’s earlier drawings were of superheroes. He was particularly fond of the comic book and magazine characters created by Alex Ross the famous writer and illustrator for Marvel.

Today, Rachard has created hundreds of works of art using various methods of pencil sketching, watercolor, ink-well pen drawing, acrylic and oil paintings. “McIntyre has an impressive collection of exceptionally detailed pen and ink portraits but one of his most signature techniques is creating images out of words.” He researches people and events and then draws and shapes images using those words.

One of his favorite paintings is The Azalea. Rachard lives in Wilmington and every spring he is mesmerized by the beautiful blossoms of the plants lining the streets and resting in the landscaping of one of the most beautiful cities in North Carolina. Rachard used watercolor to recreate a stunningly beautiful bloom of a Pink Formosa azalea. Eventually, this painting caught the attention of Azalea Festival President, Deirdre McGlone-Webb, who commissioned Rachard to recreate the painting in word art. Thus “WORDS IN BLOOM” came to life on canvas.

Rachard is a graduate of Cape Fear Community College. His works of art have been on display at the Cameron Museum of Art in Wilmington, North Carolina, the University of Texas, the Wyche Gallery on the campus of Southeastern Community College, the Hart Witzen Gallery in Charlotte, North Carolina, and at the Wilmington International Airport’s quarterly exhibit coordinated through the local Arts Council.

Rachard receives invitations to display his work at many local arts and cultural events in North Carolina. He looks forward to continuing to showcase his work in the state he calls home.

Guests to Note

Each year the Azalea Festival highlights a few individuals as Official Invited Guests.
Stars, celebrities, and heroes alike – from afar and right here locally – are honored during Festival events.  

The Festival has hosted the following notable guests (this is just a small sampling!):
Barbara Alyn Woods, Kevin Frazier, President Ronald Reagan, Adrian Wood
Also…Michael Jordan, Kerri Walsh Jennings, Chad Michael Murray, Hilarie Burton, and more!