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Nichols College

Learn. Lead. Succeed

Nichols College awards more than 450 degrees at Commencement weekend

Nichols College held its Commencement weekend on May 14, 15, and 16 with in-person ceremonies on campus on Vendetti Field for the classes of 2020/2021 graduate students, class of 2021 undergraduate students, and class of 2020 undergraduate students. A total of 468 graduates received degrees.

The ceremonies marked the last for Nichols College President Susan West Engelkemeyer, PhD, who earlier in the academic year announced her plans to retire in June 2021. “As I ride off into the sunset into retirement in a few weeks, I will always remember my decade on the Hill,” she said, followed by, “It has been the honor of a lifetime to serve as your president.”

The college ensured the safety of the graduates and their guests, in compliance with guidelines from the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, with socially distant seating, limited attendance, and mask requirements. Each ceremony was livestreamed to guests unable to join in person.

Below is a review of each ceremony.

Classes of 2020 and 2021 Graduate and Professional Studies

Friday, May 14, 2021

Amid threatening skies that produced only a brief sprinkle, 83 master’s degrees were awarded in business administration, accounting, counterterrorism, and organizational leadership.

In a prerecorded address, Alissa Routhier MBA MSOL spoke on behalf of the class of 2020, acknowledging the challenges of the past year and the aid of classmates. “The emergence of the COVID-19 global pandemic just as we were nearing the finish line meant that we had to lean into the chaos and support one another more than ever. We had to lead through the unknown that lay ahead, paving the way for classes behind us and showing what we all were capable of both as individuals and a community. All our  work up until that moment had prepared us to be the leaders we needed to be and still need to be,” she said.

The class of 2021 representative Jason Carleton MSC, who admitted he was not the strongest student in high school or college because he tried to do everything on his own, praised the Nichols culture of interdependency and collaboration. “I am living proof that even the worst student can be successful when we invest in the well-being of others. So, wherever you go, and whatever you do, no matter how important you believe you are, please always remember how important it is to help those around you. It is only when we work together that we can truly unlock our full potential,” he said.

Nichols College President Susan West Engelkemeyer, PhD, delivered the keynote address. She described her dashed childhood dream of becoming a bareback rider in the circus, later finding her passion in education, and connected it to her position as a college president. “There are four Ps that have guided me over my career. I hope they might give you some inspiration,” she said.

Passion. If you don’t love what you’re doing, do something else. Granted, this is easier said than done at certain points in your life. Just promise yourself you will not stay in a miserable situation… Perseverance…Confidence requires hard work, risk, determined persistence, and sometimes bitter failure. But failure is the inevitable result of risk-taking. By failing a lot and when we’re young, we inoculate ourselves…. Positive attitude. Attitudes are contagious, and they say a lot about you. Happiness is a state of mind – anytime you want, you can cross the state line…. Play. What brings you joy? A sport or a hobby? You’ll find emotional release but also leadership lessons.

“One exciting thing about your life now is that you no longer have course requirements. Your future entails all electives,” she continued. “Choose them wisely, develop new dreams, thank about those four Ps.”

Class of 2021

Saturday, May 15, 2021

At the class of 2021 Commencement, 261 graduates were awarded Bachelor of Arts and Bachelor of Science in Business Administration degrees.

Offering the Welcome Address, Linzi Fitzgerald told her fellow graduates: “We took advantage of our time here and created an experience that proved we are capable of great things. Look around you, Class of 2021, who among us has not been impressed with at least one other person sitting out here today? Not one day went by when we didn’t benefit from one another.”

Fitzgerald gave a special “shout out” to President Engelkemeyer, “who waited for our class to graduate before her retirement. We get it, you wanted to end on a high note. We appreciate what you have done for the college and we wish you a happy retirement.”

Valedictorian Adam Phillips reflected on his first days at Nichols: “In the fall of 2018, I decided to transfer to Nichols College, and it has been hands down one of the best decisions of my life. It wasn’t easy at first though. I didn’t really know anybody, I didn’t have many connections, I was a commuter, and I was a brand-new sophomore looking to make a name for myself. What Nichols did for me at that point is what I think makes them so special and so unique. Students treated me like lifelong friends and my professors treated me like I was one of their own sons.”

President Engelkemeyer presented a memorial degree to the parents of Hallie Linacre, a class member who died last May. “While she has been missed tremendously this past year, her legacy and her impact at Nichols have never left us,” said Dr. Engelkemeyer, who announced that an award for a junior athlete has been named in Hallie’s honor.

Henry M. Thomas III, JD, president and CEO of the Urban League of Springfield, Mass., delivered keynote remarks. “My advice to you is fundamental,” he said. “Whatever your aspirational dreams are, you should set your sight for it, go out and fight for it, use all you might for it. You can do it. Don’t let anyone convince you that you can’t!”

Prior to his speech, Dr. Thomas was awarded an honorary doctorate in social welfare by Nichols College Board Chair John Davis ’72. He was cited as being “tirelessly dedicated to providing academic, social, and economic opportunities to underserved youth and families,’ and serving as “a model of perseverance and leadership in the fight for equality and oneness of humanity.”

Presiding over her last Commencement exercises at Nichols College, Dr. Engelkemeyer remarked, “There are so many moments that I will cherish forever because you showed me what it truly means to be a part of a herd. When COVID pushed us back, we fell forward because we are Bison Strong.”

She advised the graduates to “keep learning, growing, and spending as much time as possible with family and friends. Remember how resilient you are. The future can be a surprising place, but you are equipped to adapt to it.”

She then closed the ceremony with her signature message to the graduating class: “Please remember, no matter how far our Bison roam, they will always be welcomed home on the Hill.”

Class of 2020

Sunday, May 16, 2021

Following up on the promise President Engelkemeyer made at last year’s virtual celebration for an in-person Commencement, Nichols welcomed back 124 members of the class of 2020 to receive their bachelor’s degrees.

The exercises followed a similar format as the class of 2021 ceremony and featured Henry Thomas III, JD, as keynote speaker.

Taylor Ward, who was chosen to speak at the 2020 virtual celebration, gave the in-person Welcome Address. She said that, thanks to COVID, they “will be remembered as the class that lost their graduation, sports, memories, where the whole world felt our pain.

“But where I am today, honestly, would not have happened without COVID,” she continued. “We might have not realized in the past four years, but Nichols has actually prepared us to succeed in a situation like this. During COVID, I was able to secure a full-time job, move into my own apartment and still be so involved with Nichols College. I know for a fact all my classmates are killing it in life through social media and those LinkedIn updates.”

In her closing remarks, President Engelkemeyer said, “Your journey over the past 14 months has been anything but easy. I will never forget March 13, 2020 –Friday the 13th – when we made the decision to go remote. It broke all of our hearts.”

Noting the more than 400 days since the class had been together on campus, she continued, “You, the COVID class of 2020, have already embarked on a new chapter of your personal story. It is so good to see you back on the Hill today!”

About Nichols College

Nichols College is a college of choice for business and leadership education as a result of its distinctive career-focused and leadership-based approaches to learning, both in and out of the classroom, and through impactful research and professional education. Students thrive in a learning and living environment that is supported by an experiential business curriculum and a strong liberal arts foundation aimed at transforming them into tomorrow’s leaders. Nichols offers master’s degrees in business, leadership, accounting, and counterterrorism, as well as a range of certificate programs, to promote career advancement for today’s professionals.

Media Contacts:

Susan Veshi

AVP, Advancement and College Communications



Jillian Riches

Asst. Director, Public Engagement