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Six men and women wearing green graduation robes standing by banner that says Environmental Studies.

ESF Celebrates Class of 2024 on the Shores of Onondaga Lake

Syracuse, N.Y. – May 11, 2024 – The connection between nature and the Class of 2024 of the SUNY College of Environmental Science and Forestry (ESF) was on full display during commencement exercises on the shores of Onondaga Lake.

Welcoming graduates, friends, and families, President Joanie Mahoney reminded the graduates of the lake’s history and its path to restoration.

“If you can see past the mistakes of the past – and take actions to bring that vision to life – you can make a mighty impact,” she said. “I urge you to put into action all that you have learned at ESF and continue to nurture your passion to improve our world. You all have the power to make this kind of difference. And you know that when each of us does our part, those small, individual efforts can combine to make a big change. We need you to continue to be passionate advocates for our planet.”

Meghan O’Brien may have been destined to be the day’s student speaker when she was born on Earth Day. She noted the COVID-19 pandemic that shaped the class’s college years - when campus life was lived via remote learning, masks, and social distancing - also made them stronger similar to life in an ecosystem.

“I joined this campus during its stage of dormancy. But, as our taproots strengthened, we started to grow above the horizons. We noticed others growing too and found great people along the way. Who knew a disturbance like this would sew together the experience of so many wonderful beings,” she said. “Today is the commencement of the passion that has called you to your purpose. Looking back, we are not the same people we were four years ago. The way a recovered ecosystem bounces back from a disturbance, we have reestablished with new defenses.”

The College presented an honorary degree to Camille Dungy, an award-winning author and editor who has worked tirelessly to expand the realm of nature literature and environmental studies by bringing African-American voices into the canon.

“You here at ESF, with your Robin Hood Oak, the first tree to be listed on the National Register of Historic Trees, must understand why it’s necessary to consider another living being worthy of the kind of sustained and sustaining love that is too often reserved for the humans who look and act essentially the same ways we do,” said Dungy. “I’m heartened by your Earth Week, your Earth terms, your Earth years. As you commence the next stages of your Earth journeys, I hope you remain empowered by what you’ve learned here about the possibilities of action-oriented engagement with fostering sustainable pathways for living in and loving our interconnected world.”

“If am to offer any advice to graduates of the class of 2024,” she continued. “it would be: First, to never cease turning your wonder-struck attention to this surprise-filled world all around us; and second, to open yourself to the possibility that a singular improbable surprise, or a series of them, might just point you in the direction you ought to go.”

Along with their degrees, the class of '24 amassed other honors. Erin Tochelli, Interim Assistant Provost for Academic Affairs, noted these achievements:

  • 8 bachelor's candidates completed the ESF Honors Program
  • 29 inducted into Alpha Xi Sigma, the ESF Honor Society
  • 10 inducted into Sigma Lambda Alpha, the national landscape architecture honor society
  • 3 inducted into Sigma Lambda Chi, the International Construction Honor Society
  • 5 graduating seniors were ESF in the High School participants
  • 1 received the Norman McConney Jr. Award
  • 3 veterans of the United States Armed Forces

Gary Lipp, president of the ESF Alumni Association and a retired science teacher, gave the class of 2024 one final assignment.

“Your assignment is simple yet very important, be active and get involved. Wherever you go or whatever positions you occupy, be sure to pay it forward. “It” being the knowledge you have learned from the faculty and staff at this amazing institution.”

Executive Vice President and Provost Dr. Samuel Mukasa offered the class of ’24 two pieces of advice: to become lifelong learners because the times we live in require it. And when choosing a professional position “it’s not always about the money. Follow your heart and don’t be afraid to take chances and perhaps even some risks.”


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.