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Western New England University Announces 2022 Commencement Speakers 

SPRINGFIELD — Western New England University (WNE)  announce that on May 21,professional mixed martial artist (MMA) Nick Newell will give the keynote address at the 2022 Undergraduate Commencement ceremony. On May 22, Sheila Barcohana Hollender, a leading authority on women’s issues, environmental health, and sustainability, will provide the keynote address at the 2022 Graduate Commencement ceremony. 

University President Dr. Robert E. Johnson will present both Newell and Hollender the Western New England University President’s Medallion at the ceremonies, which will be held at 2 p.m. in the Caprio Alumni Healthful Living Center on the University Campus. Established in 2002, the President’s Medallion Award is bestowed upon those who have distinguished themselves in a particular field or in service to an important cause that has benefited society locally, regionally, nationally or internationally. The President’s Medallion also recognizes men and women in a variety of fields who are role models worthy of emulation by all, particularly by our students at Western New England University. 

From an early age, Newell accepted the fact that he was born without a left hand and part of his left arm. What he did not accept was a life with limits. He tried many sports growing up, including soccer, baseball, and basketball, and was successful in all of them. But what truly interested Newell was the martial arts. His foray into combat sports was high school wrestling, competing in the 103-pound weight class, where he lost his first 17 bouts. He finished his freshman campaign 2-22. At that point, most people would have quit. 

Newell isn’t most people, though, and his sophomore year record was 24-12. In his senior year, he made All-State, and he wrestled for four years at Western New England University, winning matches in six different weight classes and being named team captain twice. 

He earned a bachelor of Arts in Communication at WNE in 2008 and worked as a master control operator for the History Channel while training day in and day out for his goal of fighting in mixed martial arts. Newell made his debut in 2009 and eventually left his day job to become a professional MMA fighter. After starting his career 11-0, he has amassed a Now a professional MMA fighter, he has a 16-4 career MMA record, with 10 of his wins occurring in the first round. He’s also the owner and head coach of Fighting Arts Academy (FAA) in Milford, CT. 

Newell’s story is now the subject of a movie, Notorious Nick, released by Lionsgate in 2021, which details his hard-fought journey and achievements as a one-handed fighter. 

To say Sheila Barcohana Hollender has forged an influential path in the women’s environmental health movement would be an understatement. Following a career as a partner in a New York law firm, she cofounded Seventh Generation, which sells eco-friendly cleaning, paper, and personal care products, with her husband, Jeffrey Hollender. She worked as the director of Giving for Seventh Generation, as well as serving as the company’s women’s environmental health advocate, and helped to innovate and launch its feminine care line of products. Unilever acquired Seventh Generation in 2016. 

Along with her husband and daughter, Hollender also cofounded Hollender Sustainable Brands (originally Sustain Natural), a company that developed and marketed Sustain Condoms, the first U.S. brand of condoms certified to be fair-trade, free of chemicals of concern, and sustainably produced. Not only did Sustain integrate social and environmental sustainability into each aspect of the business, but the company also partnered with non-profit organizations to increase awareness of safe sex and women’s reproductive health. Sustain donated 10% of its profits to women’s healthcare organizations. The company was acquired by Grove Collaborative in 2019. 

Hollender’s focus on the empowerment of women and girls worldwide has led her to work with organizations that provide women and girls with feminine care products, as well as educate them on the use of condoms to limit their exposure to HIV and STDs and to allow them to make their own decisions related to family planning. She feels that these topics are the most basic tools of empowerment. 

She serves on the board of the Stephen Petronio Dance Company. She previously served on the boards of the Breast Cancer Fund and Sustainable Health Enterprises, and the Board of Advisors of Healthy Child Healthy World. 

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