The holidays are upon us. The hustle and bustle bring excitement, not only to the upcoming festivities, but to the end of the semester as well.
I have already started making holiday memories this year. Earlier this month, I attended the Student Government Association party where we played a serious game of musical chairs, and I consider, as badges of honor, the slight bumps and bruises I accumulated. SGA President Catherine Hoey and I hosted a Bison Sugar Cookie Decorating event. The toppings—frosting, toasted coconut, candy pieces, and colored sugar among them—made for tempting final products and convinced me that one (maybe two) was enough.
A few days ago, I sent a holiday message to the Nichols family celebrating the many ways in which our student volunteers have contributed to the surrounding community. From Alternative Spring Break to Bison Give Back (which provided services at 30 different sites), these students proved that the spirit of the holidays is alive and well at Nichols all year round.
One response to this greeting came from a class of 1965 alumnus, who recalled receiving financial assistance from an anonymous donor to help pay his senior year tuition. Then president, Colonel James Conrad, arranged for the funds and imposed this condition: “’From this date forward, go forward and help everyone you can and never ask for anything in return except for them to help others.’ I have tried to help as many folks as possible, thanks to Colonel Conrad and Nichols College.”
We have already had snow in Dudley, and right now the empty white campus ringed by red brick buildings and bare trees looks like a holiday postcard. But I also notice the absence of those who bring the campus to life—and will again in January. I look forward to their return.
Thanksgiving is a time to reflect upon and express gratitude for the many blessings in your life. I have much to be thankful for in my life. Personally, I am most thankful for an incredible family, my husband Dave, our two amazing children (Kristy and Jason), their wonderful spouses (Brad and Erin), and four grandchildren (Grace, Liam, JJ, and Addy). I am grateful to have my parents at age 91 and my mother-in-law who is 101.
I am also thankful for our students, faculty, and staff. At Nichols, we understand the meaning of being a community. Our students are focused on leadership, integrity, and collaboration to make a difference in their lives and the lives of others. The faculty and staff provide a level of caring and guidance that encourages excellence in our students and demonstrates that our students truly come first. One quote by Melody Beattie that expresses my thoughts as I gather with loved ones to celebrate the holiday: “Gratitude makes sense of our past, brings peace for today, and creates a vision for tomorrow.”
“Friends and Family” may sound like a promotional plan for a phone company. At Nichols we have our own version, a daylong visit to campus on a late-October Saturday.
This year’s sunny Friends and Family Day brought 250 visitors from more than 100 families—almost 75% of them related to the freshman class. The events ranged from a home football game to an evening “Mystery Dinner”, followed by a well-attended Bingo Night.
As usual, this special day exceeded the confines of a set schedule. I was pleasantly surprised by the steady stream of parents who came by the table where I was located. Many parents talked about how Nichols was a great choice for their son or daughter. Quite a few remarked about how it was athletics, in combination with academics, that drove the decision to attend, and they told many stories about our terrific coaches.
This part of the day began right after our Board of Trustees meeting ended, so John Davis, the Chairman of the Board, was at the table with me for the first 45 minutes, and he was in constant conversation as well. It probably helped that our table was stocked with giveaways—Bison stress balls, candy (that melted in the hot sun), Bison key chains, and other items.
Bridging the continental breakfast and the aforementioned Mystery Dinner, our guests could dine at the 3rd Annual Taste of Nichols outdoor event, where almost a dozen local food vendors showcased their fare. Not to mention the students who shared their own creations. Right beside me was a student group serving fried plantains, so I grabbed a couple of those. They were terrific!
For many a college, “Declaration Day” has become a tradition when prospective students indicate their plans to attend that institution. At Nichols for the past three years, another declaration day has taken place every fall for students to extend their college education into the important realm of leadership.
On these occasions, a self-selected set of sophomores takes the first step into our Emerging Leaders Program (ELP), designed to increase and nurture their leadership skills and potential—through internships, part-time jobs on campus, academic projects, educational trips, and a host of other activities.
Any opportunity that stretches you outside your comfort zone or exposes you to something new—whether ideas or experiences—helps build confidence and begins to develop a strong foundation for leadership and life.
I made a brief speech about my personal definition of leadership, which I emphasized is more than an individual achievement. Since it was football Sunday, I used some football analogies.
In Super Bowl XXXVI in 2002, I recalled, the starting lineup for the favored St. Louis Rams came onto the field one at a time as they were introduced. When it came time for the underdog Patriots to appear, the stadium announcer said, “Choosing to be introduced as a team…”
That was the first time any Super Bowl team had taken the field in this way. I told the group, “I remember thinking, ‘The Patriots are going to win this,’ in large part due to the “team first” attitude.
They did. I have great confidence that those Nichols students in ELP can follow their example.
Nichols class reunions never get old for me, and our annual Alumni Weekend at the end of September was no exception. Whether attending live athletic events, the Saturday breakfast to induct new members to the College’s athletic hall of fame, or honoring our oldest graduates, Nichols alumni have always struck me as appreciative of their years here—and genuinely happy to be back.
It was fun talking with the classes as they lined up to go onto Vendetti field at halftime of the football game. Many have stayed in touch with classmates. Many of them told me how wonderful the campus looked, how friendly our students were when they ran into them on campus, and how good it felt to be back on campus.
The class of 2017 was well represented. I got lots of hugs and comments about how folks missed being on the Hill. And the Golden Bison reception for folks who graduated in the Class of ’67 was the largest since we started this tradition in 2012. Forty members showed up for their 50th reunion!
Not to forget the culinary side: Taste of Nichols was a popular activity, with four alumni venues hosting samples for the crowds, including cold brew and hot coffee, lobster mac ‘n cheese, ice cream, and barbecue chicken.
On the athletic front, an alumna who was inducted into the hall of fame was a classmate of our new women’s basketball coach, MaryLynn Skarzenski. I also encountered the mother of an alumna inducted last year. Mom has now adopted Nichols and was around much of the day on Saturday even though her daughter could not attend Homecoming this year.
What I have also noticed is the continued increase in the numbers showing up for this special weekend, and the good time they have had. That is not surprising, and it matches the good time I have had with them.