Class of 2022 Valedictorian: Martin Benesh

The design and technology concentration in the Department of Theatre Arts may not always get as much time in the spotlight as the performers. But the students who come to New Paltz to hone skills producing sets, props, costumes, sound and lighting are just as vital to every successful story that gets told on our stages.

Class of 2022 Valedictorian Martin Benesh ’22 (Theater Arts) is one such artist. He came to New Paltz from Mount Vernon, Iowa, to pursue a career as a stage lighting designer. His experience underscores how the program bridges the gap between artistry and technical know-how. Good lighting design requires a mix of both.

“Every day of work I’m exploring new technologies, fixing things, and learning how they work,” he said. “I believe this is particularly relevant to my work as a lighting designer because it helps me learn to be adaptable and quick on my feet.”

Benesh complemented his theatre arts training with the College’s Minor in Digital Design & Fabrication, giving him a unique skillset (and competitive advantage) for his entrance into the industry.

“Understanding things like 3D printing, coding and mechatronics has really become beneficial, especially as I begin working more closely with more complicated lighting fixtures and consoles,” he said.

The return to in-person theatre shows in 2021 was especially valuable for him. He says the pandemic created some “unique opportunities to dive into a lot of the new technology” while the department was focusing on virtual events, but this spring’s Mainstage Production of “Songs for a New World” gave him a chance to fully apply himself as a lighting designer.

“It was incredible to use everything I’d been learning throughout my time here for a production that was fully realized and quite flashy,” he said. “The rest of the artistic team and the cast created a community, and I think the quality of the work is a testament to those close-knit relationships.”

Benesh credits his mentor, Adjunct Instructor Travis McHale, with providing a model and a direction for his post-graduation career.

“Every day, I work to develop a method and artistry that is of the same quality as that of the work he introduced me to,” he said.

That approach is already paying dividends. After Commencement, Benesh will be moving on to a position with the Santa Fe Opera in New Mexico. His goal is to use that experience as a springboard into some more opportunities in New York, close to the beating heart of the American theatre industry.

“My time in New Paltz has really prepared me for those kinds of big moves,” he said. “For me, it was all about the people I met and making those connections. The biggest thing I learned here is that if you are a nice person to others, good things will come for you.”


About Commencement 2022 at SUNY New Paltz

This year’s Undergraduate Commencement Ceremonies will be held on Saturday, May 21, and Sunday, May 22, 2022, on the Old Main Quad on the SUNY New Paltz campus. Both ceremonies will begin at 10 a.m.

The Saturday Ceremony honors graduates of the College of Liberal Arts & Sciences, and the Sunday Ceremony honors graduates of the School of Business, School of Education, School of Fine & Performing Arts and School of Science & Engineering.

The Graduate Commencement Ceremony will take place on Friday, May 20, at 6 p.m., also on the Old Main Quad.

More information at