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Springfield Urban League CEO to deliver Nichols College Commencement address

Henry Thomas 472X472

DUDLEY, Mass. – Nichols College has announced that Henry M. Thomas III, JD, president and CEO of the Urban League of Springfield, Inc., will deliver the keynote address at the college’s Commencement exercises for the Class of 2021 on Saturday, May 15, 2021, at 1 p.m., and for the Class of 2020 on  Sunday, May 16, 2021, at 1 p.m. Both ceremonies will be held on Vendetti Field at the Nichols College campus.

Thomas, who will receive an honorary doctoral degree in social welfare from Nichols, has worked in the Urban League movement for 49 years, becoming the youngest person appointed president and CEO of a national Urban League affiliate at the age of 25. He has served at the helm in Springfield, Mass., since 1974, and is also CEO of Camp Atwater, the oldest African American overnight youth camp in the U.S.

In 2007, Thomas was appointed by Governor Deval Patrick to the University of Massachusetts Board of Trustees, which he chaired for three years, and currently serves as vice chair of the UMass Building Authority. He was on the Massachusetts Board of Higher Education for seven years and was vice chair of the state’s Board of Education.

He is also a board member of the Edward M. Kennedy Institute for the United States Senate, the Blue Cross Blue Shield Foundation, and the Hampden County Regional Employment Board Executive Committee.

Thomas has been deeply involved in education equity and excellence from a grass roots and public policy perspective, and has served on local, state, and national boards advocating for youth development and ensuring that all students receive the benefit of a quality education.

“Through the Urban League, Henry Thomas has devoted his life to improving educational and economic prospects for the Black community,” said Nichols College President Susan West Engelkemeyer, Ph.D. “His message of empowerment in the face of difficult times will enlighten and further prepare our graduates, the newest generation of business and civic leaders.”

Thomas earned a BA degree in psychology and an MA degree in human resource development from American International College; and a JD degree from Western New England University School of Law.

He has been recognized for his efforts with several awards and honors, including the President’s Medallion Award from Western New England University; the Human Relations Award from the National Conference for Community and Justice; the Ubora Award for Excellence from the Springfield Museums; the Service Above Self Award from the Basketball Hall of Fame & Springfield Rotary; the Distinguished Service Award from the Massachusetts Legislative Black Caucus; and the Citizen of the Year Award from the Omega Psi Phi Fraternity. He has also received honorary doctorates from Bay Path and Westfield State universities.

A native of Springfield, Thomas is the former chair of the Springfield Fire Commission and the Springfield Police Commission, as well as the co-founder of New Leadership Charter School.  He is an inductee of both the Springfield High School Sports Hall of Fame (football, track, and gymnastics), and the National Football Collegian Hall of Fame.

He and his wife, Devonia, a recently retired vice principal in Springfield Public Schools, have two children.

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 also 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