Outstanding Tommies Honored on St. Thomas Day

As the University of St. Thomas prepares for the end of another successful academic year, it’s time to toast the best of the best.

Honoring outstanding faculty, students and alumni, the university held its annual St. Thomas Day on Wednesday, May 4. St. Thomas Day recognizes the extraordinary contributions that members of the St. Thomas community have made to the university and the wider community.

The recipients of the Monsignor James Lavin Award, Professor of the Year Award, Humanitarian Award, Tommie Award and Distinguished Alumnus/Alumna Award were all announced.

This year a new award also made its debut, the Spirit of St. Thomas Award – honoring the professional and personal achievements of Tommies under the age of 40.

The 2022 recipients are:

  • Monsignor James Lavin Award – Donald Becker '51 (posthumous)
  • Professor of the Year Award – Angela High-Pippert, PhD
  • Humanitarian Award – Carolyn Smallwood '87
  • Tommie Award – Kevyn Perkins '22
  • Distinguished Alumnus Award – Michael Hoffman '88
  • Spirit of St. Thomas Award – Solome Tibebu ‘12

Monsignor James Lavin Award – Donald Becker '51 (posthumous)

The Monsignor James Lavin Award honors an alumnus or alumna for outstanding volunteer contributions to St. Thomas.

A faithful alumnus for 66 years, “Don” Becker was the kind of Tommie who “bled purple.”

For decades he recruited friends to join his enthusiasm for St. Thomas: recruiting for golf events, anchoring his class reunion, hosting countless guests at St. Thomas First Friday luncheons and cheering St. Thomas athletic teams on to victory.

“Every university needs a Don Becker – someone to tell the story,” Jennifer O’Brien, associate director for annual giving, said. “Don was the perfect volunteer. When you heard Don speak you were proud to be a Tommie and if you weren’t a Tommie you wished you were.”

Don ministered weekly to Father James Lavin before his death, and single-handedly recruited more than 10 Tommies amongst his children and grandchildren. 

Professor of the Year – Angela High-Pippert, PhD

Professor of the Year recognizes excellence in teaching, scholarship and service. The recipient is selected by his or her faculty colleagues.

This year’s Professor of the Year is Angela High-Pippert, PhD, chair of the political science department and associated faculty in women’s studies.

High-Pippert teaches courses in American politics, women and politics, and public policy. She also serves as the director for Ready to Run Minnesota, a national network dedicated to electing more women to public office.

“I would clone her if I could,” Dr. Yohuru Williams, director of the Racial Justice Initiative, said. “When you think of somebody who is committed to helping students think critical, act wisely, and really privilege the common good, it gets no better than Angela High-Pippert.”

High-Pippert has twice received the Distinguished Educator Award (2012 and 2005). She serves as a Faculty Development Fellow and coordinates the Center's Peer Teaching Consulting Program. 

Humanitarian Award Carolyn Smallwood '87

The Humanitarian Award recognizes an individual’s contributions to the betterment of the spiritual and material welfare of the less fortunate.

Carolyn Smallwood is the CEO of Way to Grow, an organization that has brought the community together to address a serious gap in early childhood education. Way to Grow serves children up to age 8 by providing support and services to families in their homes.

“Carolyn believes in people and she particularly believes in children,” St. Thomas President Julie Sullivan said. “All children are not born into the same circumstance, but all children have talent, and that’s what Carolyn is committed to.”

Smallwood previously served as vice president for sales and marketing at Twin Cities Rise! and executive director of the Minnesota Minority Supplier Development Council (MMSDC).

“My legacy I hope would be that I tried,” Smallwood said. “Sometimes I have to make decisions and I’m afraid. But I walk through it. And that’s what I would tell students, do it afraid and never give up.”

Tommie Award – Kevyn Perkins '22

The Tommie Award is sponsored annually by the Division of Student Affairs and honors a senior selected by students, faculty and staff as best representing St. Thomas Aquinas’ ideals of scholarship, leadership and campus involvement.

Electrical engineering major Kevyn Perkins '22 exemplifies those ideals. While at St. Thomas, Perkins has embraced a challenging academic schedule while showing his natural ability to lead. Perkins is president of the Black Empowerment Student Alliance, been both an Ignite Research Scholar and a Ciresi Walburn Scholar, and served as the student liaison to the Board of Trustees.

“I want to leave a mark of unity,” Perkins said. “Unity and community just create a strong support system throughout the students. If you don’t have anyone else, you can lean on each other, you can grow together.”

After graduation, Perkins plans to start a mentoring program for Black youth and pursue a master’s degree in biomedical engineering.

“There were plenty of times where I wanted to quit, and I had so many people at St. Thomas kind of lift me up, give me the support, the support I needed,” Perkins said. “I just look at them as my family.”

Distinguished Alumnus Award – Michael Hoffman '88

The Distinguished Alumnus Award honors an individual for leadership and service to St. Thomas, the community and in his or her field of endeavor.

Michael Hoffman is the former Chairman and CEO of The Toro Company, a proud Tommie, and a community advocate. Hoffman started his career at Toro at the age of 22 while taking classes at St. Thomas. Attending class through a special program on nights and weekends, Hoffman studied for a decade straight, all while working his way up the ladder at Toro. He eventually was elected The Toro Company president in 2004 and served as CEO from 2005-16.

“He will never talk about this, but if you just look at the performance of The Toro Company in the era that Mike led the company, it really was a turning point,” Rick Olson, current CEO of The Toro Company, said. “And a lot of that is directly tied to the leadership characteristics and personal characteristics of Mike.”

In partnership with The Toro Company and the Hoffman Family Foundation, Michael established the Melrose and The Toro Company Center for Principled Leadership in 2020 to promote and celebrate principled leadership through academic research, teaching, and outreach activities.

Spirit of St. Thomas Award – Solome Tibebu '12

The Spirit of St. Thomas Award is a brand-new award making its debut in 2022. The award honors the professional and personal achievements of Tommies under the age of 40.

A 2012 St. Thomas alumna, Tibebu is an award-winning mental health and patient advocate, digital health investor, and social entrepreneur.

Tibebu has worked with organizations, universities and associations to change the conversation around mental health and the use of technology to find new and innovative solutions to address mental health needs, especially among young people.