W. Nicholas Howley, the founder, chairman, and trustee of The Howley Foundation, which generously supports scholarships at Williamson as well as the construction of a new 72-bed dormitory that will be named the Howley Dormitory, was the keynote speaker at Williamson’s 130th Commencement on June 2.
Addressing the 67 graduating seniors on a stage on the Betty and Russell 5W0 Harvey Athletic Field, Howley said, “You men learned valuable life lessons here. You learned a trade or skill that will stay with you for your life. You learned how to be responsible, hard-working, decent men. You learned character and that is more valuable than anything else you learned.
“These hard and soft skills will serve you very well through your life. They are hard to find and often lead to career and personal success. Career success can mean many things, but personal success is even more important. What you learned here will make you a good, productive, contributing member of society.
He said they should remember that the most important job for a man is being a supportive spouse and a good father. “When you do this, you pay ahead and pass these skills on to the next generation.”
He went on to say that it won’t always be easy. “I guarantee you that no worthwhile endeavor is easy. You’ll have ups and downs and some failures and more successes. But, have a goal and write it down, save it, and read it now and then. With a clear goal in mind, you have a pretty good chance of getting there.
“You have the mix of skill, hard work, and luck, to be a success. So, keep at it, write down what you want, and don’t give up, guys! You men are now graduates of the best college of the trades in the country and probably the world. Make us even more proud of you than we are now.”
Howley closed his remarks by reading a poem written by ChatGPT, an AI chat bot entitled “Ode to Williamson Grads.” (See poem at the end of this article.)
In introducing Howley, President Michael Rounds said “He spoke recently at the groundbreaking of the Howley Dormitory, a triple dormitory with three dormitories under one roof that will allow 72 young men to pursue a Williamson education. This means that every year 72 guys will have the trajectory of their lives changed forever in a positive way because of the generosity of Nick Howley and his wife Lorie and the Howley Family Foundation. They made this dormitory possible by contributing $7 million for its construction.”
He went on to explain that the Howley Family Foundation was created in 2001 by the Howleys out of their desire to help financially needy young people receive a good education so they can become productive and independent adults. Today, the foundation supports the Cristo Rey Network of schools in Chicago, many other schools, and more than 900 elementary and high school students in Cleveland and Philadelphia with scholarship support. They provide this aid because they believe that education is one of the most important catalysts to promoting positive change in the lives of individuals and society. Then he said, “Isn’t Williamson a perfect fit?”
Howley is the founder and executive chairman of the TransDigm Group, Inc., headquartered in Ohio. The company has been the greatest part of his illustrious career. The company has a roughly $60 billion market value and is one of the largest aero suppliers in the world, with about 120 plants. The company is a leading producer of a wide array of highly engineered aerospace products. The company has acquired 85 proprietary aerospace businesses since its formation in 1993.
He also is the founder and chairman of Perimeter Solutions, the largest provider of wildfire fighting and prevention chemicals and wildfire fighting services in the world. It’s market value is about $2 billion.
Earlier, he worked at Imo Industries, first as the corporate director of finance and then as the general manager of the Aero Products Division. He also served as the director of finance for the 15 divisions of Imo’s turbo-machinery, and aerospace and power transmission groups. Earlier, he held a range of general management, manufacturing, engineering and international marketing jobs in the engineered service, oil drilling equipment, defense and farm machinery industries.
He grew up in Havertown and earned a bachelor of science degree in mechanical engineering at Drexel University and an MBA at Harvard Business School.
He is the 2022 recipient of the Singleton Prize for CEO Excellence given by the Singleton Foundation for Financial Literacy and Entrepreneurship. This prestigious honor goes to a CEO whose work demonstrates a combination of talent, vision, focus, and commitment. It serves as a lifetime achievement award for Chief Executive Officers.
His nonprofit community service includes board chair of Cristo Rey Network, and trustee of Case Western Reserve University, the Cleveland Clinic, the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, Washington and Jefferson College, and St. Martin de Porres High School.
At the conclusion of his speech, senior class president Jason Minch presented him with the Gear Award, saying “The award has six gears, each representing one of Williamson’s trades, and our core values – faith, integrity, diligence, excellence, and service. It was designed and fabricated by Williamson students.”
In his opening remarks, after welcoming all who were there, Rounds recognized Margaret “Weemie” Kingham, who retired at the conclusion of the 2022-2023 school year after almost 32 years of service. He pointed out, though, that she still will be around as an adjunct instructor, tennis coach, and Wing Night volunteer.
In his senior address, Minch said “The one thing we can all learn from this journey is that what truly matters in life is how we choose to carry ourselves. We’ve been challenged here at Williamson and have succeeded. Now we have the opportunity to rise up and take advantage of this. After spending three years with you, I know that our world is in good hands. Remember that our journey does not end at Williamson.”
Minch then exchanged the senior gavel with Joshua Gindle, president of the Class of 2W4. Gindle said “Today marks the end of your time here as students and the beginning of a new chapter. Remember, you are Williamson Men. You have learned the skills and knowledge and you have the determination to make a difference in your chosen field. Your mentorship and impact on the freshman class will always be remembered. The Class of 2W4 has large shoes to fill.”
Dr. Michelle T. Williams, vice president of academic affairs/CAO, then announced the seniors who have been inducted into the I.V. Club and the Phi Theta Kappa honor society and the recipients of the commencement awards.
William Bonenberger 7W9, board chairman, presented the most prestigious award, the Jeanette and James R. Clemens 3W4 Award for citizenship, leadership, and scholarship to Minch. Before presenting the award, he said “I’d like to personally congratulate the Class of 2W3. You guys came here at the worst part of the pandemic. You guys had the most difficult three years probably of any class out there. In addition to the normal challenges of the three years, you faced additional challenges with grace and without complaining and you need to be commended for that.”
In his closing remarks, Rounds said, “What makes a class special? There are a couple things that stand out. I always hope they have a spirit of gratitude in their heart and understand the gift they have been given. I hope they are willing to go out in the world and be generous themselves. This is the first class in almost 10 years to have 100% of the class step up and say they will support Williamson in some way when they are able. This is called the Stabler Pledge and they all took it. I am so proud of you guys for that; it means a lot. Our trustee Michael Piotrowicz was so pleased to hear that that he gave a $10,000 kicker for your class fund. That gift, along with the money your class raised, paid for your class banquet and your class gift of a digital sign by the school entrance.”
He added that the Class of 2W3, when they were juniors, were the first class to have 100% go on the Junior Leadership Expedition. “This was 10 days out in the woods in a tent and a canoe with no phone. It paid off big time and we saw how it impacted your leadership here this year as seniors. Think back to your freshman year. There were no sports, no field trips, no visitors, no leaving campus, there was extra time in the shops at night, Sunday night health screenings, no spring break, no Service Week. It was painful for everybody, but I think what it did was develop in you guys character and perseverance and resilience. What did you choose as your class motto? ‘Talent is a gift, character is a choice.’ That extra adversity developed extra character. You used this experience to provide great leadership to the underclassmen. You leave here not just as Williamson graduates, but more importantly as Williamson Men.”
Rounds, Howley, Bonenberger, and Chris Moran 9W9, president of the Williamson Association of Alumni, then presented the associate in specialized technology degrees to each senior. As they left the athletic field, each graduate, with diploma in hand, rang the Commencement Bell signifying he is now a Williamson alumnus.
Commencement began with the Artisans, under the leadership of Sherre Gaertner, singing the National Anthem and closed with the alma mater. Timothy Kain 7W3, representing his class as they celebrated their 50th anniversary of graduating from Williamson, opened the program with an invocation. Rev. Mark Specht 7W7 closed the event with the benediction.
ODE TO WILLIAMSON GRADS
The road ahead is long and winding,
but he has the skills to keep on climbing.
he has the knowledge, he has the skill,
and now it’s time to show his will.
The world is waiting for him to shine,
to take his place and make it thine.
He has the energy, he has the drive,
and now it’s time to spring alive.
So, go forth men and make your story
with confidence, with pride, with glory.
The road ahead may be long and winding,
but he has the skills to keep on climbing,
he has the skills to keep on climbing.