May 14, 2023
He came to St. Bonaventure in 1960 to major in biology with dreams of a career in medicine. More than 60 years later, he was honored by his alma mater for opening more hearts than any doctor ever has.
Fr. Dan Riley, O.F.M., the charismatic face of St. Bonaventure for more than 50 years, received an honorary doctorate of humane letters at St. Bonaventure University’s 163rd Commencement Exercises Sunday, a day that saw more than 800 students receive bachelor’s or master’s degrees.
“One of the good things (about St. Bonaventure) is that we look each other in the eye and get to know each other,” said Fr. Dan, a member of SBU’s Class of 1964. “If you don’t remember anything else, remember my love for you.”
Luke Brown, ’89, a university trustee, presented Fr. Dan for his honorary degree.
“What can you say in 3 minutes about a person who’s meant so much to so many,” Brown said.
“Fr. Dan is beloved by the Bonaventure community because of who he is and what he has shared with us for so many years. … He connects in a way with students that makes them know he sees each one as special and unique, making an imprint on their lives long after they’ve graduated.”
In 1974, Fr. Dan founded the Warming House in Olean, the nation’s oldest student-run soup kitchen, while he was the assistant spiritual director at the university. In the 1980s, he founded Mt. Irenaeus, a Franciscan mountain community in Allegany County dedicated to contemplation and simple living for people of diverse backgrounds.
Dr. Jeff Gingerich presided over his first graduation ceremony as university president.
“Through your engagement with our faculty and the bonds you formed with your classmates, I know you developed a sense of our Franciscan mission and the values of compassion, wisdom and integrity that we try as a community to live every day,” Gingerich said. “As you go forward, I know you will help us spread those values in a world that so desperately needs them.”
For the first time, graduation ceremonies included two student speakers: graduate speaker Richard Vara from Houston, Texas, and senior Valentina Cossio Siles from Seminole, Florida. For the first time in school history, St. Bonaventure graduated more graduate students (421) than undergraduate (406).
Vara was emotional in his address, talking about the racism he was subjected to growing up Hispanic in Texas, and the bullying he had to endure coping with dyslexia.
“I think to myself that this path I’m walking isn’t just for me. It’s for all those who were told that they couldn’t or weren’t allowed to because they were different,” Vara said. “I’m so grateful that this university has given me the tools, skills and education that I need to move forward on the next part of my new journey.”
Cossio Siles expressed why she thinks Bonaventure is unique.
“We are sent out into the world with the love and support of our friends, family, and this university to give that love back to those around us,” she said. “It’s not an easy task, but it is what sets us apart from other graduates.”
Also recognized at Sunday’s ceremony were:
- Dr. Adam Brown, professor of elementary education, who was awarded the university’s Professional Excellence in Teaching Award.
- Dr. Pauline Hoffmann, associate professor of communication, who was awarded the Professional Excellence in Community Service Award.
- Ideal Bonaventure Students Ayushi Jain of Princeton, New Jersey, and Caroline Rozanski of Washington, Michigan; and Ideal honorable mentions Deandre Allen of Jamaica, New York, and Nikolas Figueroa of Bronx, New York
For complete Commencement coverage, with complete photo galleries of Sunday’s events to be added Monday, visit http://www.sbu.edu/Commencement.
About the University: The nation’s first Franciscan university, St. Bonaventure University is a community committed to transforming the lives of our students inside and outside the classroom, inspiring in them a lifelong commitment to service and citizenship. St. Bonaventure was named the #5 regional university value in the North in U.S. News and World Report’s 2022 college rankings edition.