Graduating the Class of 2019

It amazes me how many seats we fill at the DCU Center in Worcester, MA, with fewer than 400 students crossing the stage at Commencement. Anyone attending the ceremonies on Saturday, May 11th would have noticed the enthusiasm of the graduates and their families and friends in attendance. Lots of cheering, posters with baby and current pictures of grads, signs saying “That’s my Sister,” and custom t-shirts with a graduate’s name.

When it came time for me to speak, I stressed how special commencement is to students and their families. As they prepare for a new chapter in their lives, graduates are surrounded by those who loved, encouraged, and supported them when they needed them the most. Also, I wanted students to realize that they are truly ready for their future endeavors when I said, “Your time at Nichols was a dress rehearsal for what comes next,” and they are more than prepared for that.

We presented honorary doctoral degrees to three distinguished leaders, including Massachusetts Lieutenant Governor Karyn Polito, our Commencement speaker. I thought she did a remarkable job integrating key things about Nichols into her remarks. And she stressed the importance of service, of which she is a role model herself.

We also recognized two college presidents from neighboring institutions, Charles Monahan, Sr., current president of the Massachusetts College of Pharmacy and Health Sciences and Robert Miller, the founding president of Quinebaug Valley Community College.

Nichols conferred the degree posthumously on Bob Miller, who had passed away shortly before Commencement. He was a long-term member of the Nichols Board of Trustees and a good friend to me and the College. I thought it was poignant that Daniel Baker, the undergraduate speaker, was a transfer student from QVCC. Bob and his wife Sylvia attended many Nichols events over the years. He will be greatly missed.

I always end my remarks with, “And remember, no matter how far our Bison roam, they will always be welcomed home on the Hill,” because I want them to remember the special people, places and events that shaped their academic lives.

Even though I’ve said that sentence eight consecutive years, it always chokes me up. As we say goodbye to the Class of 2019, we will welcome the Class of 2023 in a few short weeks. All the classes that preceded them do leave Bison prints on our hearts.

Women in Business Rule

Last month Nichols presented what has become a venerable annual event with a cutting edge every year. The 2019 version of our Empowering Women in Business conference did not disappoint. (A recent article in the Harvard Business Review shows that women who attended a women’s leadership conference doubled their likelihood of a promotion within a year.)

As I gave my opening remarks, I saw a sea of engaged women of all ages that had a personal dimension. My eight-year-old granddaughter came for the opening plenary, then spent the afternoon with the college’s cheerleaders. My daughter-in-law and her colleagues from Eversource and related companies enjoyed their afternoon on campus.

I began by invoking rock legend Stevie Nicks of the iconic rock band Fleetwood Mac. This year she became the only woman to be inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame twice, an honor long past due. Five years earlier, Forbes magazine had recognized her brilliant career in the article “Why Stevie Nicks Should be Your Career Success Spirit Guide”.

I finished with an exhortation to those present: “Go out there today and learn, question, connect and network your way to better outcomes for you, your peers, those you are mentoring, and especially for your daughters and at least in my case, daughter, daughter-in-law and granddaughters.”

Keynote speaker and author Mary Carlomagno followed. She was engaging, funny and had a terrific message about how, when you’re dealt a tough hand professionally, to focus on your strengths and come out the other end better than before.

Besides the afternoon workshops, there was another attraction—the boutique shopping that features local artisans and businesses, including several Nichols students who have started their own businesses. Among them: EMJAY – clothing and accessories for teens and young adults; LBYL (Live Your Best Life) Co. – urban style apparel influencing customers to live their best lives while looking fashionable doing it; and Hockey Players for Humanity – clothing committed to uniting the hockey community to raise money for those in need.

A shout out also goes to Nichols juniors Sachelle Mercado and Lynn Thibault, who embodied the impact of the Nichols Institute for Women’s Leadership. They were an important part of the conference’s planning committee and were involved in every aspect of the event. Well done.