Thomas College to Celebrate 125th Anniversary Commencement Weekend; Announces Speakers and Class Marshals

Published: Thursday, April 4, 2019

WATERVILLE, April 2019 —Thomas College Provost Dr. Thomas Edwards has announced this year’s speakers and honorary degree recipients for the College’s 125th Commencement Ceremonies, taking place on the Thomas campus Friday, May 10, and Saturday, May 11.

Commencement will take place Saturday, May 11, at 1:00 p.m. in the Harold Alfond Athletic Center at Thomas College. Thomas College is honored to announce Todd Smith as this year’s Commencement Speaker. He will receive an honorary Doctor of Business Administration degree.

Todd Smith
Todd Smith is this year’s Commencement speaker.

Smith is President of TSSD Services, Inc. and is highly regarded as a leader in the commercial nuclear industry. He provides oversight of business operations for the recovery and completion of the decommissioning of three New England power plants – serving as the Director of Operations for all three sites’ dry fuel storage operations. He has nearly 30 years of professional experience in the heavy construction industry including construction management, contract management, corporate management and project controls.

Smith graduated from Thomas College with a B.S. in Accounting in 1992 and an M.B.A. degree in 1999. He has been a Thomas College Board of Trustee member since 2004, and became co-chair of the board in 2010, a position he still holds today. Under his leadership and philanthropy, the College surpassed its Dream. Transform. Achieve campaign goals in 2014 that led to program and scholarship expansion, and facility expansion including the Harold Alfond Academic Center, Kennebec Savings Turf Field Complex, and the Henry and Ellen Hinman Residence Hall. 

Red Barn owner Laura Benedict will also be awarded an honorary Doctor of Humane Letters degree at this year’s Commencement ceremonies, in recognition of her community service.

In 1986, Benedict bought The Red Barn, a seafood restaurant in Augusta.  She quickly went into debt trying to survive amid the big chain restaurants moving in.  For decades Benedict struggled, and – on the verge of her 5th bankruptcy – almost closed the doors for good in December 2010.  Rather than close, Benedict decided to open the doors even more by donating food to charities – St. Michael School in Augusta being the first recipient.

Laura Benedict
Red Barn owner Laura Benedict

With the help of the community and making giving the centerpiece of her new “business model,” The Red Barn went from a struggling business trying to make money to one trying to make a difference. Since that first benefit in 2010, the Red Barn Cares – a state licensed non-profit – has raised over $2.7M for families in need and other charities, with elderly and Veteran’s groups at the forefront.  In 2013, the “Red Barn Bill” was enacted that removed previous restrictions on the amount of charitable contributions that a business can give back to their community. 

Despite all the hardships she has endured, Benedict fully believes that “If you give, you will never need.” 

Doug Sukeforth will also be recognized with an honorary Doctor of Business Administration degree at Thomas College’s 125th Commencement ceremonies. Sukeforth founded Winslow-based Mid-State Machine Products in 1968, which provided solutions to numerous industries, including gas and oil, power generation, maritime, and defense.

Doug Sukeforth

Established in 1998, the S. Douglas and Rita C. Sukeforth Charitable Foundation has been a generous supporter of Thomas College and a number of other causes, including children’s health issues, area hospitals, social services, and Christian and Baptist organizations.

The Sukeforths also sponsor the annual “Sukeforth Family Festival of Trees” event in Waterville, which raises funds for the Hospice Volunteers of Waterville Area and Spectrum Generations’ Meals on Wheels. Prior to the “Festival of Trees” event, the Sukeforths annually hosted a pig roast in Solon to raise money for these same organizations.

In fall 2018, Thomas College recognized the Sukeforths’ philanthropy by dedicating the Sukeforth Family Trail System on campus, which has quickly become a major resource for the Thomas College community and has been made available to the entire area community, thanks to their generosity. 

The speaker for Honors Convocation, which takes place on Friday, May 10, will be Charles (Wick) Johnson. Johnson is president and former owner of Kennebec Technologies in Augusta, having transitioned the company into an ESOP in 2017.

Prior to entering the manufacturing trade, Johnson spent five years teaching sixth grade in rural Oxford County. During that time, he also worked in carpentry and began building and selling log and post and beam homes.

Wanting to become involved in manufacturing, Johnson seized the opportunity to enter an industry that began catering to large aerospace, defense, and technology companies.  In 1982 he joined then Kennebec Tool and Die’s sales and management department, began learning the business, and purchased the company two years later.

Johnson was attracted to the company because the products were unique, and it had the potential for consistent growth and high-end manufacturing jobs. It was a good values match for him, as his goal was to build on the founders’ accomplishments and make it a more sophisticated company with a national reputation.

Johnson has been a Thomas College trustee since 2016. He has previously served on a number of other boards including the University of Maine System as Chairman, the Maine State Chamber as Chair, and Augusta’s Lithgow Library Capital Campaign. Johnson graduated with a B.A. in History from Lafayette College.

Katie Taylor

Thomas College features students from each division to speak at commencement on behalf of their peers. Representing the Undergraduate Division will be Katie Taylor. Taylor is from Lebanon, Maine, and will be graduating summa cum laude with a Bachelor of Arts degree in Political Science with a minor in Pre-Law. She plans to attend law school after graduation.

Darren Forkey

Representing the Graduate Division will be Darren Forkey. Forkey is from Walton, New York, and will be graduating with his Master of Business Administration degree. He plans to stay in Waterville and pursue a career in sport management or business after graduation.

Kaylee Marraffa

Assisting the graduating class this year as marshals will be Kaylee Marraffa from Livermore Falls, Maine, Natalie Corrigan, of Oakland, Maine, and Sydni Collier, of Oakland, Maine.

Sydni Collier

Marraffa is graduating with a Bachelor of Science degree in Early Childhood Education with minors in Psychology and Science. She plans to continue her education and pursue Montessori Certification while teaching after graduation. Corrigan is graduating magna cum laude with a Bachelor of Science degree in Marketing Management. She plans to work in the creative marking or event management field after graduation. Collier is graduating magna cum laude with a Bachelor of Arts degree in Interdisciplinary Studies with a concentration in English, Education, and Sociology. She plans to continue her education by pursuing her master’s and Ph.D. in Sociology after graduation.

Natalie Corrigan

For more information on Commencement activities, please visit www.thomas.edu/commencement.

About Thomas College: Celebrating its 125th anniversary, Thomas College offers undergraduate and graduate degrees in programs ranging from business, entrepreneurship, and technology, to education, criminal justice, and psychology. Its Guaranteed Job Program, the first of its kind in the nation, is built on students’ academic, career, and leadership preparation. Thomas is also home to the Harold Alfond Institute for Business Innovation and the Center for Innovation in Education. In 2017, Money Magazine ranked Thomas 23rd of all colleges and universities in the country for adding the most value to their degrees, and data reported by the New York Times ranks Thomas in the top 15 percent of all higher education institutions in the U.S. for upward mobility of its graduates. For more information, visit www.thomas.edu or MacKenzie Riley Young at pr@thomas.edu or 207-859-1313. 

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