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.

Another Night to Remember

One evening last month, the Nichols faculty gathered off campus—not for a presidential address or a development workshop. They were enjoying a dinner that has reprised itself for almost three decades, courtesy of a revered Nichols alum and trustee.

Robert Kuppenheimer ’69 is known around the Nichols campus as Kuppy and is renowned here as a benefactor with a genuine interest in the life of our college. While we’ve been fortunate to have a number of generous and involved alumni, and while Kuppy has funded everything from scholarships to building projects, the annual Faculty Appreciation “Kuppy” Dinner stands alone. And while there are probably plenty of other schools that get substantial financial support from individual donors for faculty-related activities, I have never heard of this level of personal involvement.

Kuppy truly enjoys his time on campus interacting with faculty, students, and staff. Before dinner he met with a group of faculty members to discuss their research activities, talked with members of the Student Alumni Society about philanthropy, and met with English Professor Jeff Halprin about a Kuppy-inspired yearbook he’s preparing for the Class of 1969. In all of these meetings, Kuppy as always was genuinely interested and eager to listen, as well as to provide his opinions.

Jack Finning, our featured dinner speaker, talked about his experience with the 20 Nichols graduates he’s hired over the years at AAFCPAs, the large regional accounting firm that he co-founded. He explained that he surveyed the 13 current Nichols grads he employs about how they thought their Nichols degree prepared and differentiated them. Jack also talked about where we could do better. And that’s what it’s all about! Understanding where we do well, while working to address areas where we could improve.

Kuppy always glares at me when I tell him I want him to speak. Then he stands up and wows the crowd with his passion about the importance of student-faculty relationships. I also love the fact that Kuppy’s brother attends this event every year. A longstanding tradition that is always a great night.

What a Run!

I’ve spent part of the last month as a big basketball fan, rooting for the Nichols men’s team as it made school history.

I attended the Commonwealth Coast Conference championship game at Holy Cross. It was packed with far more Nichols than Gordon fans. I also traveled to the NCAA Round 1 at Rowan University in Glassboro, New Jersey–where Nichols had wins over Middlebury and Rowan to advance to the Division III Sweet Sixteen for the FIRST time in College history!

The next weekend I attended two games at Amherst College. Nichols beat vaunted Amherst to advance to the Elite 8, but lost to Swarthmore, which ended the road for the team as they knocked on the door of the Final Four. In the Swarthmore game, the team was down by as much as 19 points. They battled back within 2, but ultimately lost by 4.

Three consecutive years as CCC Conference Champs is quite a feat. The team was a joy to watch this season. No ball hogs. Constant communication. Up tempo play that really rattled many of their opponents. I think we’re going to be a force to be reckoned with for years to come.

Many of our sports teams this year have provided points of pride by competing strongly in the CCC playoffs. Women’s ice hockey had a terrific season and quite a turnaround from just two years ago. While it was not the year for men’s ice hockey, they typically take a run deep into the conference playoffs and have brought home many a trophy.

So has men’s tennis, which is another juggernaut to watch this spring. In the 8 years I’ve been at Nichols, they have accumulated quite a collection of championship jewelry and perennially make it to the NCAA tournament.

Student athletes comprise a large proportion of the student body. What’s more, their grade point and retention rates are above the overall average, so they truly take the “student” part of student athlete very seriously.

Spring Semester Resolutions

As February dawns, our spring semester is in full swing, and there’s plenty I want to see happen at Nichols this term, from progressing on our new strategic plan to catching up with the freshmen from my “Lead 101” class last fall.

I’m interested in student reactions to our new space featuring a vaulted ceiling and walls of windows in Lombard Dining Hall—and completed during the holiday break to keep disruption to a minimum. I’m also looking forward to welcoming prospective Bison at two Accepted Student Receptions and giving a fond farewell to our graduating class in May.

Speaking of graduation and beyond, our current overarching goal—to retain 80% of our first-year students for their sophomore year by 2020 —has the Nichols community more focused than ever on ensuring that students succeed here and are prepared for what’s next.

While a small proportion of them go directly to graduate school, most will enter the workforce. As we fully implement our leadership initiative across all four years of the undergraduate degree, they all will be ready to demonstrate their value to future employers.

I’ve always said that those soft skills—leadership and teamwork in particular—make a hard impression.

My personal “New Term” resolutions:

To get out of my office more often and chat more with faculty, staff, and students.

To continue to balance my time on campus—completing the necessary tasks but also finding time to attend a sports competition or student-run event.

To be sure that my Apple watch closes all three rings every day.