Commencement Address: Valedictorian Martin Benesh ’22 (May 22, 2022)

Martin Benesh ’22 (Theatre Arts) gave the 2022 Student Commencement Address at SUNY New Paltz on Saturday, May 21. The full address is transcribed below.


Welcome, friends, family members, and proud graduates to this incredible celebration. While this day marks an incredible transition in our lives, and the next few months are sure to hold a whole new set of obstacles to overcome, people to meet, and places to go, for this afternoon, we have an amazing opportunity to sit in the weight of our accomplishments. I urge you to take a moment later this afternoon to feel the wind blow, give your mom a hug, enjoy the incredible view of the Catskills, and just be present.

It is my pleasure to be speaking to you all today as the class of 2022’s valedictorian, and before I get too far in my speech, I want to give a huge thank you to some key people who supported me along my journey. I wouldn’t be here today without the support of my friends, family, and some really incredible faculty members. Specifically, I want to thank Travis McHale, Sunny Kil, and Ken Goldstein. The three of you are the reason I traveled all the way from Iowa to go to school here and made all the risk worth it.

The class of 2022 has come a long way since beginning our undergraduate experiences. We’ve been through trials and tribulations; from late nights in study rooms and studios to navigating life on campus during a water crisis. Although we are the last class at SUNY New Paltz to have completed a full year of college before the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, we still had to adapt to all the major changes that online learning brought. But despite all of this, we’ve made it to the end of this chapter because after all, growing up is all about overcoming challenges.

New Paltz was a really great place to finish growing up in. For me, as a kid from Midwest, it was an incredible stepping stone to my life long dream of moving to a big city. And for those of you like some of my friends that grew up in that “big city”, I hear it was a big change in a different and still lovely way. But no matter where we came from, SUNY New Paltz gave us the space to fail, get back up again, and grow –all the while preparing us for a little bit more elegant landing the next time around. In hindsight, I think this whole “failing and getting back up” thing really worked for me- I remember a whole lot more from tests I failed than the ones I did well on. All this is to say that I am incredibly thankful for all the practice I’ve had correcting my mistakes because iterating is a key part of solving any problem and I know we’re all going to be doing a lot that in the next phases of our lives, wherever that may take us.

But the way we’re taught to solve problems is one of the things that I think is most remarkable about SUNY New Paltz. In addition to learning about the intricacies of our various areas of study and to have persistence and grit, we learn how to build support systems and networks that will support us as we move to solve problem after problem. I’ll never forget during my third year here when I was asked to design the projection system for a MFA Art Student’s Senior Thesis. I had never done anything like that before. But ultimately, with a little bit of determination and the advice and guidance of industry professionals that I had been introduced to through my work at SUNY New Paltz, we were able to produce some really amazing art. The network we build here will stay with us for years to come.

But I don’t want to sugarcoat things. Right now there are parts of society that are notably bleak and our generation has some massive obstacles to overcome; the pandemic, war, the climate crisis, hate, corruption. After leaving SUNY New Paltz, we will be called to address these problems. While I’m not sure if individually we will be able to conquer these proverbial goliaths, my time at SUNY New Paltz has made me confident that generosity, kindness, and community are certainly part of the answer. So class of 2022, I urge you to work everyday to nurture the relationships you already have, develop new ones, and be committed to cultivating environments that are welcoming and supportive. This is how we begin the work.

Congratulations to the class of 2022! Thank you for listening to me speak today.