Berea College President Lyle Roelofs presented Carl Thomas ‘78 and his wife, Deborah Byrd Thomas ’80, with the President’s Medallion at a surprise ceremony during the College’s 2017 Homecoming Weekend on Saturday, November 18.
Established in 1988 by then-President John B. Stephenson, the award is given at the discretion of the President to honor those who have shown “exemplary service in the advancement of Berea College and its cause.” Together, the Thomases are the 16th recipients of the President’s Medallion.
“What a pleasure and privilege it is to award Presidential Medallions to Carl and Deborah Thomas,” President Roelofs said. “Carl and Deborah, who in their long service to the College, really deserve a great deal of the credit for strengthening our interracial mission by bringing so many deserving and accomplished students of color to Berea College.”
Carl Thomas has worked for Berea College for nearly 40 years, and serves as Associate Director of Admissions and Coordinator of Minority Services. A native of Birmingham, Alabama, Carl has split his time between Berea and his hometown for the majority of his career. Deborah works at the Social Security Administration in their hometown of Birmingham, where they raised their three children.
After graduating from Berea, Mr. Thomas decided to forgo a career in the military to work at the College. He has been a conduit through which more than 850 Alabama high school students have found their own way to Berea College. Drawing upon his own college experience at Berea, he is committed to connecting deserving students all over the south with his alma mater. Thomas helps prospective students focus on their dreams for the future and connects them to resources at Berea—mentors, faculty, staff and programs—to find the support on campus to help them achieve their dreams.
“Here is a place where students have a chance to fulfill their dreams,” Thomas said. “Berea is the place for the student who comes here on a bus with one suitcase, graduates with a degree, passionately pursues their career, and lives as a model citizen. It’s a game changer. That’s why I’ve spent my life doing this work. That kind of student needs a mentor who can see beyond where they can see for themselves. I see beyond for them, and I help them get here.”
Colleagues and alumni, many who had been recruited to Berea by Thomas, described him as “extraordinary,” “altruistic,” and a “servant-leader.” In describing Deborah Thomas, her classmates, alumni from Alabama and President Roelofs used words such as “vivacious,” “grace,” “energetic,” and “the rock,” respectively.
The following tribute video was played at the President’s Medallion surprise ceremony during 2017 Homecoming Weekend. Friends and colleagues of Carl and Deborah were asked how they met and what impact the Thomases have had on their personal and professional lives.