Henry M. Thomas, III, JD, has served as president and CEO of the Urban League of Springfield, Inc., since 1974 and, at the age of 25, became the nation’s youngest appointed leader of a National Urban League affiliate. A native of Springfield, Thomas founded the New Leadership Council Charter School; established Step Up Springfield; was the first African-American to chair the Springfield Police and Fire Commissions; and previously led Camp Atwater in North Brookfield, the oldest overnight camp for African American youth in the United States. After his appointment to the UMass Board of Trustees by Gov. Deval Patrick in 2007, Mr. Thomas distinguished himself with a 13-year tenure—including two and a half years as board chair—and a deep commitment to the state’s premiere public research university. His leadership and advocacy were instrumental in the Medical School’s 2015 establishment of its first-ever regional campus, UMMS-Baystate, in partnership with Baystate Health in Springfield, focused on improving the health and well-being of Western Massachusetts’ medically underserved rural and urban communities. The Class of 2021 includes the inaugural cohort in the School of Medicine’s Population-based Urban and Rural Population Health (PURCH) track. Thomas earned bachelor’s and master’s degrees from American International College and a juris doctor degree from Western New England University School of Law.


By Scott O’Connell

Telegram & Gazette

DUDLEY — Every class goes through its own travails, but the graduates of 2021 in particular have made it through a “gantlet,” keynote speaker Henry M. Thomas III said at Nichols College’s commencement ceremony Saturday.

Thomas, the president and CEO of the Urban League of Springfield, said this year’s class has been made all the tougher as a result.

“Now you can be confident that you are good enough, you are strong enough, you are smart enough, you are bold enough to live your dream,” he said. “Don’t let anybody convince you that you can’t reach the place that your North Star leads you.”

More:In-person or virtual? A look at commencement plans for colleges in Central Mass.

Unlike a year ago, this year’s graduation was held outdoors at Nichols’ Vendetti Field, with graduates and guests spaced out 6 feet from each other.

On Sunday, the college will hold another in-person commencement for the class of 2020, which only had a virtual sendoff last spring.

It’s not been an easy year, graduates acknowledged, largely because of the pandemic and its restrictive effect on campus life.

Nichols College seniors listen to keynote speaker Henry M. Thomas III during commencement exercises yesterday at the college in Dudley.

“The whole year’s been a different perspective,” senior Brendan Daly said. “I think we learned to appreciate the in-person aspects rather than sitting in front of a computer eight hours a day.”

“Definitely, it’s been a learning experience,” another graduate, Dylan Pella, said. “Actually being able to walk today is the biggest achievement of the year … instead of walking in front of a TV.”

The pandemic was just one hardship this year’s class suffered. Several speakers acknowledged the loss of classmate Hallie Linacre, who died a year ago. Her parents, John and Mary, received her degree in her honor during Saturday’s ceremony.

“While she has been missed tremendously this year, her legacy and her impact at Nichols have never left us,” said Nichols President Susan West Engelkemeyer.

Take time to develop relationships with people you don’t know. … Time waits for no one – ask anybody sitting on this stage.


Valedictorian Adam Phillips said the class of 2021 “experienced everything together,” whether it was a global pandemic or “another Tom Brady Super Bowl.” And after Linacre’s passing, “we did what Bison do: We rallied around one another, we gave each other a shoulder to lean on, we became closer.”

While Saturday gave glimpses of a college, like the rest of the region, emerging from the pandemic, it also signified a changing of the guard at Nichols, as Engelkemeyer presided over her final commencement weekend before her departure from the college this summer.

“We get it, you wanted to end on a high note,” welcome speaker Linzi Fitzgerald joked in her address, adding she and the rest of this year’s graduates “appreciate what you (Engelkemeyer) have done for the college,” and wish her a happy retirement.

As the class of 2021 prepare for their own post-Nichols life, Thomas advised them to listen to the words of his cousin, the late Vernon Jordan, when he said “wherever you are heading, you cannot get there by yourself.”

A Nichols College senior wears a decorated mortar board at Saturday's commencement.

“Take time to develop relationships with people you don’t know,” Thomas said, adding graduates should also be mindful of that fact “that time waits for no one — ask anybody sitting on this stage.

We know you’re going to do some wonderful things,” he said, “and make us all proud.”


Link to article source: https://www.telegram.com/story/news/education/graduation/2021/05/15/nichols-college-class-2021-celebrates-getting-through-gantlet/5019331001/?fbclid=IwAR09oUmSo-kcgzqsDmGI-wmMMxRVpiKDpkHW_zT9XJwA1iykTxYGdSeVXRQ