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St. Bonaventure University

Two students selected to speak at St. Bonaventure University’s Commencement Exercises

May 03, 2023

In the Photos: Commencement student speakers Richard Christopher Vara (left) and Valentina Cossio Siles.

Commencement speakers pairedBreaking from tradition, St. Bonaventure University has selected two degree candidates as student speakers at this year’s Commencement Exercises, to be held Sunday, May 14, in the university’s Reilly Center.  

Normally, one student is chosen from among auditioning candidates to serve as student speaker.
“We chose two speakers this year, an undergraduate student and a graduate student, in part because of the large number of graduate students planning to attend Commencement,” said Pamela Ferman, associate dean for student development and a member of the selection committee. “We also noticed a significant difference in their experiences as students and their connections to the university.”
Addressing their fellow Class of 2023 graduates will be Richard Christopher Vara of Houston, Texas, who will receive a Master of Arts degree in digital journalism, and Valentina Cossio Siles, an accounting and finance double major from Seminole, Florida, who will receive a Bachelor of Business Administration degree.
Vara is part of the inaugural class of graduates in St. Bonaventure’s online master’s degree program in digital journalism, which began in fall of 2021. He plans to tell graduates to not forget to include themselves when thanking the people who helped them get to graduation day.
“I will talk about how our paths led us to St. Bonaventure and what we are called to do as Bonnies after we cross the stage. I will urge my fellow graduates to thank those who helped us along the way — that study buddy who became a close friend, someone who encouraged you not to give up, or your parents who worked extra shifts to help pay your way through school,” Vara said. 
“But I will remind my classmates that they did all the work. They were responsible enough to go to class. They’re the ones who spent late-nights writing papers and studying for exams. It’s their hard work that is making this moment possible, and it’s OK to be proud of that.”
Vara, who has more than 20 years of experience in media technology and theater, is a media engineer at the University of Houston-Downtown. He maintains audio-visual equipment, sets up and operates multimedia equipment for classes and conferences, creates and edits video and audio content, and provides training, among other duties. 
He has also been heavily involved with the university’s Theatre Department, which “led to a 20-year love affair with the stage,” he said. He performed in a production of Shakespeare’s “Julius Caesar” at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe in Scotland.
Vara is the creator and editor-in-chief of “The VCR Show,” a pop culture website and podcast.
A graduate of the University of Houston-Downtown, where he earned a bachelor’s degree in humanities, he formerly worked as an audio-visual technician at Rice University in Houston and as a high school social studies teacher at South Houston High School.
Vara, who learned about St. Bonaventure in an ad on Facebook, said he will use his degree in digital journalism to continue his work on “The VCR Show,” and that he is “excited to see what other opportunities will be coming my way now that I have a master’s degree.”
Cossio Siles said she will convey “a sense of hope and fellowship” in her address to graduates.
“These four years have flown by and I’m so thankful to St. Bonaventure for giving me the chance to improve, persist, and grow through successes and failures. This is something that unites us all. We’ve all learned so much about ourselves and are ready to excel in the ‘real world,’ and I couldn’t be prouder of the Class of 2023,” Cossio Siles said.
“I’ll talk about how love and Franciscan values set us apart from all other graduates entering the workforce. They’re what made Bona’s feel like home the minute I stepped on campus, and I hope it always feels like home for this newest group of alumni.”
An honors graduate, Pacioli Scholar and recipient of a Presidential Scholarship to attend St. Bonaventure, Cossio Siles has been active in and out of the classroom. 
She served as president of the student group Ladies in Faith Together; coordinator for the Warming House, the student-run soup kitchen in Olean; a residence hall resident assistant and mentor; secretary of external affairs for the Student Government Association; a facilitator for the financial education club NvestNus; and student representative to the Mission Integration Advisory Committee. She was also a member of Model UN, the Liturgy Committee, a student worker for the Farm to Table summer program at Canticle Farm in Allegany, and an overnight host for the Office of Admissions.
Cossio Siles was a volunteer for a Remote Area Medical pop-up clinic in Olean; for a COVID-19 vaccination call center in Olean; at St. Francis Inn in Philadelphia; for activities run by St. Bonaventure’s Enactus chapter; and for Mountain on the Road, an outreach program of the SBU-affiliated Mt. Irenaeus friar community.
While attending St. Bonaventure, she served as a launch intern for Ernst & Young in New York City and as a tax intern at Proto & Loskey, CPA, LLC, in Olean.
Born in Bolivia, Cossio Siles has a love for learning languages, which led to her completing a minor in French.
Following Commencement, she will return to St. Bonaventure to complete her MBA and serve as a graduate assistant in the School of Business.
St. Bonaventure’s 163rd Commencement Exercises will be held at 10:30 a.m. on Sunday, May 14, in Reilly Center Arena on campus. The ceremony will be livestreamed on the university’s livestream channel: For more information about Commencement events, visit
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.