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Nichols College Celebrates Class of 2018 at Commencement Ceremony

WORCESTER, Mass.—At their May 5, 2018, graduation from Nichols College, 499 students in the Class of 2018 were advised by one of their own (who just happened to be a famous Hollywood movie producer) to never let fear stand in their way of pursuing their dreams. 

“You are all about to start new journeys into the real world, and although it sure is exciting, it can also be quite daunting,” Louis A. Stroller—a 1963 Nichols graduate whose movie credits include “Scarface” and “Carlito’s Way”—told the students in his Commencement address. “I want all of you to remember this saying—‘Fear makes the wolf bigger than he is.’—when you’re going for your first job interview, or when you’re about to take a risk, or when you’re scared to reach for your dream. I hope, if years from now you don’t remember a single word from my speech today, you just remember that phrase and let that serve as your reminder to chase whatever dreams you have. I would not be standing here in front of all of you today if I didn’t take this same advice.”

Undergraduate and graduate students, their families and friends, faculty and staff, trustees, and other special guests were on hand at the Commencement ceremony, held at the DCU Center in Worcester, to experience the inspirational messages delivered by keynote speaker Stroller, Nichols College President Susan West Engelkemeyer, Ph.D.; undergraduate valedictorian Haroutiun C. Sarkisian ’18, senior class speaker Isabella Sansone ’18, and graduate student speaker Jaquelene Kelly MBA ’18. (This was the first year that a graduate student was invited to deliver an address at a Nichols College Commencement.)

During the ceremony, 304 Bachelor of Science in Business Administration degrees; 27 Bachelor of Arts degrees; four Associate in Business Administration degrees; two Dual BA/BSBA; and 162 graduate degrees (Master of Business Administration, Master of Science in Accounting, Master of Science in Organizational Leadership; and, for the first time, Master of Science in Counterterrorism) were awarded.

“We have been proud to mentor you, to challenge you, and to help you succeed and learn to lead,” President Engelkemeyer said in her remarks. “We know you leave us at your best—for now. Commencement, by definition, marks the time when something begins. Your time at Nichols was a dress rehearsal for what comes next, and your dress rehearsal prepared you well.

“We estimate that the full-time students in the Class of 2018 have given over 2,500 hours of community service and delivered over 10,500 presentations,” she added. “You have interned at organizations that include Dell EMC, Merrill Lynch, the National Hockey League, and the New England Center for Children.”

President Engelkemeyer offered the graduates a piece of advice: “Waste no time in carving out those moments to do the things that make you truly happy. That may or may not be related to your job. If it’s not, it’s even more important because that’s how you will find additional strength to deal with the ups and downs and disappointments that will inevitably come your way. And it will help you grow your leadership skills. I call it ‘leadership lessons from the other side of life.’

“Your Nichols education has equipped you with the tools you need to be a leader,” she added. “Now you need to add some inspiration, perspiration, and determination that comes from your other side to be successful throughout life’s journey.”

AN ALUM’S WORDS OF WISDOM

Since graduating from Nichols, Stroller became a successful Hollywood film producer. He has been an assistant director, production manager, and producer on more than 40 films, working with some of Hollywood’s most renowned actors, including Denzel Washington, Meryl Streep, Angelina Jolie, Al Pacino, Nicolas Cage, Sean Connery, and Sissy Spacek. His notable list of film credits also includes “The Bone Collector,” “Snake Eyes,” “The Rock,” “Carrie,” and "Sea of Love."  

Stroller shared how he first got involved in the movie industry: His Dad’s friend was filming a TV commercial at JFK airport and wanted to borrow Stroller’s old sports car. “Watching my Dad’s friend and the rest of the crew work on the commercial, I was mesmerized. I was just fascinated by every little thing—all the technicians and the equipment, and all of the organization and coordination that went into this 60-second TV spot. I was hooked.”

But before he got into TV and movies, Stroller first graduated from Nichols College. He told the audience how instrumental Nichols was in providing him with the tools he needed to achieve his goals.

“Nichols was a dream come true for me,” said Stroller. “Nichols prepared me for what life had to offer. Never when I was attending Nichols did I think that I would have to put my knowledge to work in different parts of the world. Nichols College gave me a foundation to build upon. It gave me the wherewithal to make movies with budgets from $350,000 to $200 million, and bring these pictures home, for the most part, on schedule and on budget. Not only that, Nichols also gave me the knowledge and confidence to deal with whatever life threw at me. This was due in part to the small, intimate atmosphere. It was also due to the professors who would give me that extra special attention and help that I needed to succeed.

“Nichols gave me the educational groundwork, and my experiences while at Nichols shaped me into an individual who was prepared for the real world,” he added. “Without Nichols’ foundation, I would not have been able to succeed from a business standpoint.”

The Brooklyn-born Stroller humbly began his storied career as a gopher, sweeping stages and fetching coffee for the crew at a New York City television studio. (One of his early assignments was to chauffeur Harry S. Truman to the studio for a documentary production on the former president.) He became the unit manager of the Mel Brooks comedy classic, “The Producers,” and served as first assistant director on films such as “Charly,” Woody Allen’s “Take the Money and Run,” and “Lovers and Other Strangers.”

HONORARY DEGREES

 During the ceremony, honorary degrees were conferred upon Stroller (Doctorate of Communications and Media) as well as two other distinguished individuals: recently retired CEO of W.E. Aubuchon Co. Inc. M. Marcus Moran Jr. ’66 (Doctorate of Business Administration); and local humanitarian and philanthropist Marilyn Fels (Doctorate of Humane Letters).

Moran is a business and civic leader who has dedicated his career to the success of W.E. Aubuchon Co. Inc., the oldest family-owned-and-managed chain of hardware stores in the U.S. He joined Aubuchon in 1970 and served in a variety of positions, including personnel manager and treasurer, before being named president in 1993 and CEO in 2011. Under his leadership, Aubuchon grew to more than 125 hardware stores throughout New England and New York.

A 1966 graduate of Nichols College, Moran earned a Master of Business Administration at Babson College in 1967 and was an instructor at Fitchburg State University, the National Retail Hardware Association (NRHA), North Shore Community College, and Mount Wachusett Community College. He co-authored a business mathematics textbook for community colleges.

A devoted volunteer leader, he has served a number of educational, human service, and cultural institutions. Among them are Cushing Academy, Nichols College, Fitchburg State, Fitchburg/Leominster Boys & Girls Club, United Way of North Central Massachusetts, Thayer Symphony, and the St. Paul Consortium of Catholic Schools Inc. Moran served on the Board of IC Federal Credit Union for 29 years and as its chairman for 10 years.

In recognition of his contributions, Moran received the Key to the City of Fitchburg/Saving a Life as well as awards from Fitchburg State College, Mount Wachusett Community College, Boy Scouts, and the Bishop of Worcester.

He lives in Westminster, Mass., with his wife Tonia. They have three children and six grandchildren.

Marilyn Fels was honored for her contributions to the lives of Dudley and Webster residents.

Fels provided the primary funding for new facilities for the Webster-Dudley Boys and Girls Club, the Community Cat Connection in Webster, and the Webster Animal Shelter—organizations she continues to significantly support. She was a major donor to the construction of the Pearle Crawford Memorial Library in Dudley as well as to the new Webster public library, which is under construction. She was among the chief benefactors for the renovated Harrington Memorial Hospital emergency room in Webster, and her multi-million-dollar grant to build a new police station in Webster was hailed by the town administrator as an “unprecedented show of philanthropy.”

In addition, Fels’ contributions have helped secure a new vehicle for the Dudley Police Department, an echocardiograph machine for Harrington Memorial Hospital, and July 4 fireworks for the town of Webster for many years. She also supports the Worcester County Food Bank, Webster-Dudley Food Share, area animal shelters, Webster and Dudley public schools, and is a dedicated congregant at St. Andrew Bobola Church in Dudley.

Although she’s not a graduate of Nichols College, Marilyn and her husband Gerald Fels—a 1966 Nichols graduate and a trustee emeritus—are equally credited for creating educational opportunities for area residents at Nichols, through scholarship aid to hundreds of local students, and their support of the Bartlett Honors Academy, Remillard Hall, the Fels Student Center, and other Nichols initiatives.

The couple lives in Webster, Mass., and has two children and two grandchildren.

HEARING FROM THEIR PEERS

In his valedictory address, Sarkisian, an international business major from Encino, Calif., shared with the audience that his father passed away seven years ago: “I remember the feeling. I remember the fear; it was so real. I learned something through that experience, something that we’ve all heard, something that should never be taken for granted: Life is so precious … I realized you don’t get to choose the things that happen to you, but you do get to choose how you react. So, I made a promise that I was going to become someone who my father would be proud of, someone who I could be proud of.”

Echoing Stroller’s address, Sansone, a marketing major from Whitman, Mass., said: “Work hard to be uncomfortable, and keep challenging yourself. Don’t be afraid of growth. Embrace it with every opportunity that comes your way, and you will open more doors than you could ever imagine. Like they say, if your dreams don’t scare you, they aren’t big enough.”

Graduate student speaker Kelly, of Leicester, Mass., who received an MBA, noted: “Not only are we graduating from Nichols, we’re also graduating on to what’s next for each of us with a new set of skills and tools in our back pockets. No matter where you are, where you’ve been, or where you think you’re going, you have been given the resources and the capability to be prepared to go down any path you choose—even the ones you may not yet see.”

Graduating seniors were excited to complete their degrees, after four years of hard work.

“I’m the first in my family to graduate from college,” said Ashley Cibotti of Norton, Mass. “I’m a role model for my siblings, and they see how long and hard I’ve worked to achieve this goal.”

Gina Pacitto of Bellingham, Mass., said: “It’s an achievement for me. I’m ready for the next step—a whole new segment. It will be an adventure.”

Belmont, Mass., resident Nicholas Papathanasiou pointed out what was on a lot of people’s minds on Commencement day.

“You don’t expect how fast the four years go by,” he said.

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. Founded in 1815, Nichols transforms today’s students into tomorrow’s leaders through a dynamic, career-focused business and professional education. Nichols serves students interested primarily in a comprehensive business education that is supported by a strong liberal arts curriculum.


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