Actor and humanitarian Thomas Sadoski, soccer professional and entrepreneur Chelsea Spencer, and managing director and chairman of Morgan Stanley's Institutional Securities Group Jeffrey R. Holzschuh are among the featured speakers at Niagara University’s 2024 commencement ceremonies.

Actor and humanitarian Thomas Sadoski, soccer professional and entrepreneur Chelsea Spencer, and managing director and chairman of Morgan Stanley's Institutional Securities Group Jeffrey R. Holzschuh were among the featured speakers at Niagara University’s 2024 commencement ceremonies in Lewiston, N.Y., and Vaughan, Ontario.

The celebration got underway on May 9, when Thomas Sadoski gave the keynote address at Niagara University’s graduate commencement ceremonies at Artpark in Lewiston, N.Y.

Sadoski has been featured in movies including the 2022 biographical war film “Devotion”; on television shows such as “Life in Pieces” and “The Newsroom”; and on and off Broadway in productions including “The Wedding Band” and “White Noise.” In addition to his acting career, he has been a tireless advocate for  War Child Canada/USA, a Canadian-based organization dedicated to helping children and their families overcome the brutal impact of war and violence in some of the world’s worst conflict zones. As a direct result of his support and engagement, the organization raised more than $1.5 million over a period of five years. Sadoski has also been a spokesperson for Refugees International and actively involved in efforts to protect the Rohingya community in Myanmar from persecution by government forces. He serves on the board of the International Network for Aid Relief and Assistance, an organization that provides medical and mental health care for conflict-impacted children. In recognition of his humanitarian efforts, Sadoski received an honorary Doctor of Humane Letters during the ceremony.

Blythe Thompson Merrill, executive vice president at John R Oishei Foundation, was also honored during the event with the university’s Caritas Medal in recognition of her extraordinary service to racial equity in Western New York. Merrill’s impressive career in preservation planning, community development, and technical advising includes roles at a number of different organizations, including the Landmark Society of Western New York, the Municipal Art Society of New York City, the Preservation League of New York State, the New York State Council on the Arts, the Community Foundation for Greater Buffalo, and LISC Western New York. She is also a founding member of the Greater Buffalo Racial Equity Roundtable, was a major driver in the effort to bring Say Yes to Education to Buffalo, and played a significant role in the development of the Buffalo Center for Arts and Technology.

On May 11, Niagara University alumna Chelsea Spencer addressed graduates at both the morning and afternoon commencement ceremonies, which took place at Artpark. She also received the university’s Founder’s Award.

Throughout her career, Spencer has worked to strengthen and broaden opportunities for young female athletes. After graduating from NU, she played soccer at the pre-professional USL-W League in the United States, then professionally at the Canadian provincial and national levels, before focusing on coaching and taking on leadership positions with Ontario Soccer and the Coaches Association of Ontario. She currently serves as a director for League 1 Ontario. Through her work with Empower Futbol, an enterprise she founded in 2016 to improve access to competition for young female athletes, she has collaborated with Ontario Soccer, Halton Field Hockey, and the Coaches Association of Ontario, and become a nationally recognized advocate for children, using her voice to address the importance of sport as a positive catalyst for the physical and spiritual growth of young people; in particular, young women.

Also honored during the morning event was Niagara University alumna Luella Kenny, who received the Saint Louise de Marillac Award in recognition of her commitment to environmental justice. After the death of her young son, Kenny became a key member of the Love Canal Homeowners Association, the grassroots movement that united and organized residents in response to what is considered among the worst environmental disasters in history. She drew upon her 40-year background as a Roswell Park Comprehensive Cancer Center research scientist to help conduct groundbreaking epidemiological studies that proved the unprecedented concentration of physical and mental illness in and around Love Canal.

That afternoon, Stefanie Wichhart, a professor of history at Niagara University, received the Vincentian Mission Award for her extraordinary engagement as a teacher, scholar, and faculty leader. Since joining the NU faculty in 2007, she has established an enthusiastic following among students for her interactive approach to teaching, and taken on numerous leadership roles within her department and throughout the university. She has published dozens of peer-reviewed articles, book chapters, and encyclopedia entries, as well as a single-authored book, “Britain, Egypt, and Iraq during World War II: The Decline of Imperial Power in the Middle East.” She is a frequent speaker at conference presentations, invited talks, and research panels in the United States and abroad. She is also dedicated to advancing the university’s Vincentian heritage, having served as the faculty mission director for three years and completing the fifth cohort of the Vincentian Mission Institute in 2019.

Jeffrey R. Holzschuh, a Niagara University alumnus and chairman emeritus of its Board of Trustees, delivered the commencement address for Niagara University in Ontario graduates on May 16 at the Meridian Arts Centre. He also received the St. Vincent de Paul Medal in recognition of his generous and unfailing support of Niagara University and his commitment to a wide range of charitable giving.

Holzschuh’s academic achievements and campus leadership formed the foundation of a 40-year career with Morgan Stanley. He is currently the managing director and chairman of Morgan Stanley’s Institutional Securities Group, which includes the Investment Banking, Capital Markets, Equity, Fixed Income, and Commodities Divisions, and chairman of Morgan Stanley’s Global Power and Utility Group. He is also actively involved with the firm’s Sustainability Institute and Environmental Policy Committee. Over the years, Holzschuh has overseen many of the industry’s largest mergers and acquisitions and a wide variety of advisory and financing transactions for several of the firm’s key clients. He was the chair of the Edison Electric Institute Wall Street Advisory Group, a founding member of the US Partnership for Renewable Energy Finance, and a member of the United States Electricity Advisory Board.

Algonquin Metis, visual artist, educator, and curator Diane Marie Jeannine Montreuil were also honored at the event with the Caritas Medal. Using art and craft-making as a means to examine, analyze, and dialogue with the history of Indigenous peoples in Canada—the joys as well as the trauma—Montreuil teaches and inspires young people from all cultural backgrounds. The intergenerational transmission of ancestral knowledge, from mother to daughter to granddaughter, form the basis of her work, which has been featured in numerous art exhibits, demonstrations, and magazines throughout Canada and the United States. She is a board member of the Métis Nation of Canada and a frequent collaborator with the Toronto Catholic School Board, and recently, with Niagara University in Ontario.