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Approximately 218 students will graduate when Lincoln College holds its 152nd commencement ceremony Saturday, May 11. Reflecting the changing composition of the school’s graduates, more than half of those students are expected to receive bachelor’s degrees.

Again this year, the college will host a special public “Excellence in Leadership” panel the day before graduation, featuring the college’s two honorary degree recipients – John D. Blackburn, former President of Lincoln College and CEO of Country Financial, and Lawrence E. Thomas, a principal at Edward Jones in St. Louis.

The “Excellence in Leadership” panel is set for 3 p.m. on Friday, May 10, on the main stage of the Johnston Center for the Performing Arts. The public is invited to join students, faculty and staff for the session.

The commencement ceremony will take place in the Lincoln Center on the Lincoln campus beginning at 12:30 p.m., on Saturday. As in past years, the ceremony includes graduates from the Lincoln campus, as well as from Lincoln College’s Accelerated Bridge to Education (ABE) program, which includes students from the Normal, Lincoln, Peoria and Oglesby campuses. An estimated 88 students from the ABE program are eligible to participate, while the Lincoln campus is expected to have about 130 students. Over 35% of the graduates, for a total of 79 students, are eligible for honors lists. That includes 17 of the Associate Degree graduates and 62 bachelor’s degree recipients.

The featured speaker at the commencement and one of the members of the “Excellence in Leadership” panel is Lawrence E. Thomas, a principal at Edward Jones in St. Louis, where he began working as an intern in 1977.

After completing his bachelor’s degree in Business Administration in 1977, Thomas was hired full time in the firm’s Corporate Bond Trading department. His role involved locating corporate bond investments to fit the needs of individual investors. Five years later he became principal. In 1985, he established the Government Bond department. Thomas has held a number of leadership positions at Edward Jones, including area leader for the 13-state Northeast region, heading the Syndicate and Unit Investment Trusts groups, overseeing the firm’s financial advisor minority recruitment and he now leads the university channel for Financial Advisor Career Development in Talent Acquisition.

Thomas also serves as Chairman of Forest Park Forever, a private nonprofit conservancy that works to restore, maintain and sustain Forest Park as one of America’s greatest urban public parks.

John Blackburn is best known to the Lincoln College community as the 21st President of Lincoln College, but prior to accepting that positon, he had a 30-year career with COUNTRY Financial, ultimately serving from 2001 to 2012 as CEO and chairing the boards of its four alliance companies.

During his tenure as CEO the company had exponential growth, expanding from 18 to 40 states and growing its assets from under $8 billion to over $14 billion.  In addition, COUNTRY joined the prestigious Fortune 1,000 list in 2004 while Blackburn served as CEO.

Prior to joining COUNTRY Financial in 1982 as an agent, John spent 12 years as a high school English teacher, varsity basketball coach, athletic director and administrator.  During his coaching career he was twice named District Coach of the Year by the Illinois Basketball Coaches Association.  He was the first Class A coach to take two different schools to the State Finals, Morrisonville (1975) and Pana (1981).

Blackburn began his service to Lincoln College in May 2002 when he joined the Board of Trustees. In 2011, Blackburn was unanimously chosen as president of Lincoln College, a position he held until 2015.

During his tenure as Trustee and later as President, Lincoln College successfully launched and completed the construction of the Lincoln Center, acquired the WLNX radio station building, created a Summer Bridge Program to assist student transition to college, opened the Dr. G. Dennis Campbell Creekside Outdoor Center for Environmental Education, established the Lincoln College Athletic Hall of Fame and expanded and moved the Lincoln Heritage Museum to the Lincoln Center.

In addition to the two honorary degree recipients, the student speaker this year will be Brighton Robbins, of Lincoln. Robbins is receiving her bachelor’s degree in Criminal Justice. She is a graduate of Lincoln Community High School and is the daughter of Teresa and Mike Robbins of Lincoln. She is graduating Summa cum Laude and was the 2018 Student Laureate of the Lincoln Academy of Illinois for Lincoln College, an annual selection of one top senior from each college or university in Illinois.

At Lincoln College she was a member of Phi Theta Kappa honor society and was an NJCAA Academic All American for two years in both volleyball and softball. During her final semester she was a student mentor and worked in the financial aid office throughout her time at Lincoln College.