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Women and men sitting wearing green graduation regalia.

ESF held December Commencement exercises Friday, Dec. 8, 2023.

Continue Fighting for Our Planet, but Have Fun While Doing It

Student speaker reminds classmates life beyond college has much to offer

SYRACUSE, N.Y. – Dec. 8, 2023 - “We cannot let the pressure of knowing we have been tasked with saving the world stop us from enjoying our lives,” said Rowan Nothnagle, student speaker to graduates during December Commencement exercises at the SUNY College of Environmental Science and Forestry (ESF).

Nothnagle, a chemistry major, shared his thoughts as part of the ceremony held Friday, Dec. 8, at Hendricks Chapel to celebrate the accomplishments of ESF’s newest graduates. The College conferred 110 degrees, including 14 master's degrees and eight Doctor of Philosophy degrees. The ceremony also included the presentation of three Graduate of Distinction Awards.

“Despite the negatives that surround us daily, there are incredible people, places, and things out there that we need to experience and enjoy,” Nothnagle said. “Life is too short not to. Our Earth will still be here tomorrow, we need to take a break from caring for the Earth and continue to learn to take care of ourselves.”

When life does become stressful, he asked his fellow graduates to remember their time at ESF and how they had fun and earned their degrees. “Think back at those moments often, whether it be traveling on a bus to win another national championship for ESF, a field trip for a club or lab, or even heading down to Salt City Market with the poetry club, remember how it felt to be there in that moment. Take that feeling and bring it with you into the world. “

In her remarks to the graduates, President Joanie Mahoney said, “ESF is a rigorous college in the best of times and it’s fair to say that the last few years haven’t always been the best … and yet you have succeeded.”

“You brought your passion to Improve Our World to ESF, where you built a strong academic foundation. You studied in the classroom, lab, and studio; you practiced your skills in the field; you gained global perspectives through study-abroad programs and real-life experience at internships; and you learned from your faculty, peers, and the greater community.

Mahoney continued, “As individuals, we know you will make your impact in the world of conservation, but significant change happens when communities come together. To successfully tackle environmental issues, communities must come together, the same way you came together these last few years. You already know how to do it and you can lead the way.”

Three alumni were honored during commencement. Graduate of Distinction Awards were bestowed upon Dr. Mercy Borbor-Córdova ’99 & ’05; Richard Centolella ’85; Gabrielle Sant’Angelo ’13.

Borbor-Córdova, recipient of the Graduate of Distinction Lifetime Achievement Award, noted that along with knowledge, ESF provides her with a network of experts and colleagues.

“Beyond the acquisition of academic knowledge, the network of collaboration with fellow ESF alumni has been instrumental … For each of us, SUNY ESF bestowed the tools and the scientific knowledge to navigate the complexities of our world. It is now your turn to make a positive impact in your community, country, and the world.”


The SUNY College of Environmental Science and Forestry (ESF) is dedicated to the study of the environment, developing renewable technologies, and building a sustainable and resilient future through design, policy, and management of the environment and natural resources. Members of the College community share a passion for protecting the health of the planet and a deep commitment to the rigorous application of science to improve the way humans interact with the world. The College offers academic programs ranging from the associate of applied science to the Doctor of Philosophy. ESF students live, study and do research on the main campus in Syracuse, N.Y., and on 25,000 acres of field stations in a variety of ecosystems across the state.