Nichols alumni came back last weekend for our annual Homecoming gathering and festivities—including our Golden Bison Reception. This event, one of my favorites, honors those celebrating their 50th reunion. As has become a tradition since 2013, the 50-year reunion class funds an endowed scholarship. The class of 1968 presented me with a check for $54,000! We now have 69 endowed scholarships thanks in large part to the generosity of our alumni.
We also hosted even older graduates. I chatted with an alumnus from the class of 1953 who is still working. He uses our library regularly as he conducts research for his consulting and grant-funded projects.
On the athletic front, it was quite fun on Saturday to see our football team with a big win and scoring over 40 points in two consecutive weeks.
My four grandkids came to Homecoming. The Cheerleading Team allowed my granddaughter Grace to hang out with them, and they even incorporated her into one of their cheers.
September is always a special month on college campuses. Although the extension of hot weather in central Massachusetts has made it feel like summer break isn’t really over, it’s easy to spot the returning energy, interest, and enthusiasm that go with a new academic year for students, faculty, and even a college president. I always continue to be impressed with how we launch into the fall term.
What’s also impressed me this year is the non-stop innovations our academic programs are producing, all with an eye to improving the real world experience and employment future of our student body.
We have just debuted our Bloomberg Marketing Concepts (BMC) initiative, which matches state of the art facilities on campus with advanced information streaming from the business world. Our students now work with the same software and financial data provided by that esteemed business publishing company.
Our Accounting department also has something new to offer—the full deployment of a mentoring initiative that brings students into regular contact with accounting professionals, including Nichols alumni.
Accounting majors have long interned with companies throughout Massachusetts, often a prelude to their being hired afterwards. But the students who helped pilot the mentoring program last year agree that it’s a priceless opportunity to shadow experienced professionals and talk with them about the field they’re about to enter.
Our Master of Science in Counterterrorism degree, meanwhile, is entering its second year. It equips graduate students (many of whom have completed their undergraduate careers at Nichols) with an education and skill set that is in high demand for positions like analysts in the intelligence community, homeland security agents, and state and local officers who serve as a front line of defense against extremist activity. The program also offers subject-matter experts within the field of counterterrorism and violent extremism at the federal, state, and local levels of organizations.
Oh, to be a student again!
Our nation has long relied on, respected, and rewarded the men and women of our armed forces. From an educational perspective, the Post 9/11 GI Bill—like its iconic post World War II predecessor—funds their college tuition.
Nichols has put on its marching boots to increase our enrollment of these deserving vets and to provide the support that they need. For the past four years, we’ve won recognition as a Military Friendly school by the respected veterans advocacy group Victory Media. That distinction places us among 800 higher education institutions from the thousands of schools the organization reviewed.
We waive application fees and grant credit for military experience, and as a Yellow Ribbon college, we add to the financial aid of veterans beyond the $23,000 they receive annually through the G.I. Bill.
It’s helped also that our intimate campus provides close contact between these older students and their teachers and counselors, a number of whom have served in the armed forces. Our extensive leadership programs pick up where military training leaves off.
We’ve learned along the way to streamline the connection between our registrar’s office and the federal government to cut the red tape of transitioning to college. And we’re aiming to move up to the Silver level of Military Friendly schools and to join an elite group of just a few hundred peers nationwide.
Along those lines, we’ve been implementing an eight-part program recommended by the U.S. Department of Education that includes working with community organizations and local veterans agencies and increasing the connectedness of our veteran students with organizations and people on campus.
We also realize that we are getting much in return. Our veteran undergraduates serve as positive role models for their younger peers and provide good sounding boards for life beyond graduation. On a higher level, they convey the importance and value of service to our country, and we think that’s important.
Another academic year has come and gone, and on Saturday, May 5, I presided over my 7th commencement exercises. It has been truly rewarding to watch students grow and develop in their years with us, and I always tell them that they are leaving us at their best… for now. Many undergraduates are heading to new and exciting positions, others are just starting their job search, and 30 will be with us another year to complete a graduate degree. Of the 501 graduates this year (394 who attended commencement), there were 87 double bison, 19 triple bison, and 1 quadruple bison!
My advice to them this year was to “waste no time in carving out those moments to do the things that make you truly happy,” for it’s those moments that provide the strength to weather the ups and downs that inevitably come our way. Our speaker this year was Louis (Lou) Stroller ’63 – an assistant director, production manager, and producer on more than 40 films including Scarface, The Rock, Carlito’s Way, The Bone Collector, and Carrie. Lou shared one of his favorite sayings with the graduates – “Fear makes the wolf bigger than he is.” He reminded the graduates that they have the strengths to knock down the fear that they allow to take control. He told them to let that quote serve as a reminder to chase whatever dreams they have because you never know when and where an opportunity will present itself. We also awarded honorary doctorates to Marilyn Fels, an individual that is a household name in the local community for her unwavering philanthropic support, and Marcus Moran ’66, former CEO of Aubuchon Hardware.
I always close my remarks with “no matter how far our bison roam, they will always be welcomed home on the hill.” My voice always wavers with those words because it is a bittersweet day to say goodbye. Yet with all those goodbyes, we are preparing for new hellos. In a few weeks campus will be alive again as we welcome the Class of 2022 for first-year orientation. These sometimes shy and apprehensive new students will be the confident graduates crossing the stage in four short years, and I’m sure I’ll choke up again.
On Sunday, April 22nd, Nichols held this year’s second and final Accepted Student Reception—an event at which we welcomed a host of next year’s freshmen and their families and others not yet committed to coming here next fall.
Almost 140 students attended, and all received information on what to expect of academics and life at Nichols. Over the course of the morning and three back-to-back sessions, they explored academic majors, extracurricular activities, and our signature professional development and leadership programs.
I told our future freshman—future Bison, I called them—that we need them to make us stronger as a college tomorrow, just as the current student body represents our strength today. I asked those still finalizing their college choices to use their heads and hearts in making a consequential life decision.
It was significant to me that some of the students attending were looking to transfer from Mount Ida College in Newton, Massachusetts, which will close its doors later this spring because of financial difficulties. That recent and surprising decision has been sobering to the many small, private colleges around Massachusetts.
I was asked by both parents and students how they could be sure we’re not the next Mount Ida. I discussed financials and offered to share audited financial statements. One of the students who posed this question had transferred to Mount Ida last year only to find himself seeking a new academic home for his senior year.
I also pointed to the bright careers awaiting our graduates, in particular those of an award-winning movie producer and a former CEO of the retail chain Aubuchon Hardware. Both received honorary doctorate degrees at the Nichols commencement ceremonies on Saturday, May 5.
Then it will be on to preparing for the Class of 2021.