The Peoria, Illinois Native Earns Highest Honor Presented to a Senior Student at the Institution
Montreal Thomas, a senior from Peoria, IL, has been named the 2022-2023 Student Marshal at Blackburn College. Selected each year by college faculty, the title of Student Marshal is the highest honor achieved by one graduating senior at Blackburn. To be considered, a student must be outstanding in all areas of campus life, display exemplary participation in the college’s unique student Work Program, and have a cumulative GPA of at least 3.3 or be in the top 20% of their class.
Thomas was humbled to receive the honor but is grateful for the opportunity to serve as a leader for the senior class and student body. He said, “Being awarded the title of Student Marshal feels a bit surreal. I usually keep to myself and rarely speak, so knowing that I’ve had such a positive impact and influence on the people around me means a lot.”
Dr. Karen Dillon, English & Communications Department Chair at Blackburn College, believes Thomas is “deserving in every way” of the Student Marshal honor. “He is intelligent and empathetic, which makes him the kind of person who makes those around him better people. He is truly humble about his talents and even wanted to work as a writing tutor this year so that he could have more opportunities to make a difference in other students’ lives.”
She continued, “Monte is the kind of student every college wants to have, and I’m so happy that Blackburn gets him.”
As a first-generation college student, the proximity to his home in Peoria and affordability initially played a role in applying to Blackburn. However, the deep sense of community he has discovered has made Blackburn an exceptional fit. “It’s like having a second home,” Thomas said. “Everyone really knows everyone. You get the chance to be on a first-name basis with your professors and build a connection where they know you as an individual. Having students or professors be there to let you know everything will be okay was refreshing.”
He added that his favorite thing about Blackburn is its size. “I always try to avoid drawing attention to myself, so I know that if I were to attend a bigger school, it would be likely that no one would even know my name. But here at Blackburn, I’ve realized that I’m capable of much more than I thought coming into college.”
Dr. Margaret Lawler, Executive Director of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion; Chief Diversity Officer; and Title IX Coordinator at Blackburn College, was excited to see Thomas tapped as Student Marshal. “Monte is an exemplary leader at Blackburn, and his ability to stay laser-focused on continuous growth and self-improvement makes him a perfect fit for this honor. Monte is passionate about the college’s justice, diversity, equity, and inclusion while supporting the Blackburn campus and community in countless ways.”
In the classroom, Thomas is a double major in math and political science and a minor in English. On campus, he is vice president of the Black Student Union and Spectrum, a gay/straight alliance club, and serves in the Blackburn College Student Senate.
As part of Blackburn’s unique Work Program, Thomas has gained incredible experience coaching and setting his fellow students up for success as a math and political science tutor. During the application process, he found the Work Program appealing because of its financial benefits – every student earns a $5,000 credit to reduce the cost of tuition each year they participate. However, he has gained much more during his three years at Blackburn. The Work Program will give him a resume full of marketable work experience, and Thomas credits the Work Program with helping him build confidence. “I’ve had a big problem with anxiety, but I also like helping people. Being a tutor allows me to meet and talk to people in various spaces. It was like a three-on-one or five people in a room having a fluid conversation. That’s really helped me.”
“Monte is one of the best students I have had the pleasure of teaching at Blackburn,” Dr. Shelly Peffer, Professor of Leadership, Law, and Public Service, shared. “He is a quiet leader on campus and is always willing to assist other students with school and personal issues. I am thrilled he received this honor, which is definitely well deserved.”
Thomas will graduate in May 2023 and plans to prepare for the Law School Admission Test. When asked about his advice to new Blackburn students, he shared, “My advice would be to encourage new students to expose themselves to new things. I wish I had the confidence to join different clubs or sports a lot earlier in my college career, and I don’t want anyone else wondering, “what if”? Just try it and move on if you don’t like it. It’s fine if you don’t. Always ask for help if you need it. Blackburn is a community, and someone will know what to do.”