Iona University Celebrates 80th Annual Commencement Ceremony

Iona University honored the Class of 2024 at its 80th annual Commencement ceremony on May 17, 2024. The event took place on Iona’s New Rochelle campus, celebrating the accomplishments of nearly 900 undergraduate and graduate students with over 5,000 guests in attendance.

Former United States Congressman and House of Representatives Majority Leader Richard (Dick) Gephardt delivered this year’s keynote address and received an honorary degree.

Addressing the crowd, the two-time presidential candidate recounted how when he first became interested in politics, he started at the very bottom of the ladder. As he worked his way up to the top of global leadership, he often returned to a simple lesson bestowed upon him by his mother when he was just 5 years old: Always treat others as you want to be treated and stay humble.

“You’re going to have times when things go very wrong,” Gephardt said. “But always remember, success never teaches us anything. Failure is the great teacher.”

As graduates prepare to take their next steps in life, Gephardt also offered inspiration that no matter what the path ahead may bring, it should be embraced with openness and gratitude.

“In 1776, the Declaration of Independence promised Americans life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. Today might be a good time to think about what achieving happiness means to you,” he said. “My experience is that none of us obtains real long-term happiness just because of money. As I said, it’s always important. But all of us seek a sense of purpose and meaning in our lives. So, my best advice is simply: Be intentional in thinking about what happiness is to you, and throughout your life, visit and revisit your personal definition of happiness.”

Iona University President Seamus Carey, Ph.D., congratulated the Class of 2024, saying he looks forward to seeing how graduates implement their wisdom in their world moving forward.

“You’re going to have access to more data and knowledge than any generation before you. But it’s not about data and knowledge. It’s about what do we do with it. How do we interpret it? How do we use it? What do we use it for? And that requires wisdom,” he said. “But here’s why I am so optimistic about our futures: You all have demonstrated over the past four years that you have the wisdom and the will to do what is right in so many different situations.”

Student speakers included Shakinah Silverberg ’24, former Student Government Association president, who delivered the welcome address. She started off congratulating fellow graduates for successfully completing years of “rigorous coursework, taking risks, building meaningful relationships and embracing what it means to be a Gael.”

“Our experience is something that can’t be described in one word, so I’ll use four: Move forward with purpose,” she said. “I feel like Iona has prepared us incredibly well for future endeavors by introducing us to the workforce early through so many incredible internship opportunities, travel opportunities and relationship-building opportunities.”

Inspired by Iona’s mission and appreciation for diversity, this year’s undergraduate student speaker, Geraldine Vargas ’24, encouraged fellow graduates to embrace their unique story.

“Up until my four years here at Iona University, I never understood the true power of integrating my culture with my professionalism and leadership,” she said. “Everyone at Iona has a very particular story, and being able to hear them while also sharing mine has led me to understanding that diversity is one of the most crucial aspects you should fulfill in any space.”

Then, attendees heard from graduate speaker Matthew Ricker ’18 ’24MA. Ricker, the eighth member of his family to graduate as a Gael, emphasized the importance of remaining lifelong learners. He also shared his journey with hearing loss as a reminder to never give up. 

“I believe we can agree that the last few years have been unprecedented but have only made us stronger. I also believe that it has taught us to appreciate the smaller things in life and to value each memory” he said. “As Dr. Suess once said, ‘Sometimes you will never know the value of a moment, until it becomes a memory.’ Be sure to dream big and make a life so amazing you’re excited to wake up each day.”

You can view this year’s ceremony on Iona’s Commencement website at