Saint Leo University will award more than 1,100 degrees during three commencement ceremonies scheduled for Friday, April 27, and Saturday, April 28. The graduating seniors, their families, and friends also will hear from three prestigious guest speakers in addition to outstanding student speakers.

Saint Leo hosts 13 commencement ceremonies throughout the United States with the first three being held at the Marion Bowman Activities Center at University Campus. Commencement ceremonies will continue for Saint Leo WorldWide and the university's education centers through July 7.

Details for the April 27 and April 28 ceremonies

Friday, April 27, 3 p.m.: Baccalaureate Mass will be celebrated by the Most Reverend Gregory L. Parkes, bishop of the Diocese of St. Petersburg and a member of the Saint Leo University Board of Trustees, in the Marion Bowman Activities Center.

Friday, April 27, 7 p.m.: An expected 330 students will graduate during a ceremony for Saint Leo WorldWide, which includes online and Adult Education Center students as well as some traditional undergraduates. The ceremony will take place in the Marion Bowman Activities Center.

The guest speaker is Edwin Narain, regional director of external affairs for AT&T, who also is a Saint Leo alumnus, a member of the university's board of trustees, and a former state legislator.

Narain earned a Bachelor of Arts degree in psychology and a Master of Business Administration degree from Saint Leo University. In 2013, he completed a Leadership Certificate and earned a Jurist Doctor degree from Stetson University College of Law.

In November 2014, Narain was elected to serve in the Florida House of Representatives from Tampa. As a freshman legislator, he was elected chairman of the Florida Legislative Black Caucus.

Selected to speak to her fellow Saint Leo WorldWide students is Quinisha Abrahams, an active duty U.S. Navy chief petty officer.  Abrahams earned her Associate of Arts degree in 2013, and in 2015 she resumed her educational journey with Saint Leo University. She is graduating with her Bachelor of Science degree in health care management. Abrahams will she will continue her education and pursue a Master of Business Administration degree. While continuing her naval service, she will use her degree to be commissioned as a Medical Service Corps officer.

Saturday, April 28, 9 a.m.: Degrees will be conferred in the Marion Bowman Activities Center to more than 400 students earning master's degrees and two students receiving their Doctor of Business Administration degrees. Earning DBAs will be Stephen B. Kubasek and George J. Simonof.

The guest speaker for the graduate programs ceremony is MaryEllen Elia, a prominent educator, with over 45 years of combined experience in teaching and administration, including the leadership of very large and complex education systems. 

Elia is the New York State commissioner of education and president of the University of the State of New York (USNY). In this role, she oversees the work of more than 700 school districts with 3.2 million students; 7,000 libraries; 900 museums; and 52 professions encompassing more than 850,000 licensees.

Prior to her appointment as Commissioner in New York in July 2015, Elia served as superintendent of schools in Hillsborough County, FL (Tampa-area) for 10 years.

Selected as the student speaker for the graduate programs commencement is Niclas Bez, who is earning a Master of Business Administration degree. Bez, a native of Bonn, Germany, also is a men's track athlete, and recently won the 800m in the Embry-Riddle Spikes Classic on April 7, setting a personal best of 1:52.46 in that event. He came to Saint Leo University in 2013 after being recruited to run cross country and track. 

Bez was actively involved in Pride Consulting, a student-run consulting business, and as a reporter for the student newspaper. After completing his bachelor's degree with a double major in marketing and management, he accepted a position as a graduate assistant in the Career Services department, which allowed him to pursue an MBA.

Saturday, April 28, 2:30 p.m.: More than 300 traditional undergraduates who studied at University Campus will receive their degrees during the ceremony in the Marion Bowman Activities Center.

Addressing the graduating students is former Florida Governor Robert "Bob" Martinez, who served as the state's 40th governor from 1987 through 1990. He was the mayor of Tampa, FL, from 1979 to 1996.

As governor, Martinez initiated America's largest environmental land acquisition program, Preservation 2000. Martinez was appointed by President George H. W. Bush in 1991 to the cabinet rank position of director (or "Drug Czar") of the Office of National Drug Control Policy where he served until 1993.

He now serves as a senior policy advisor to Holland & Knight LLP and is a political analyst for Bay News 9.

Selected by her peers to give the Class of 2018 farewell is Cassidy Whitaker, who is graduating cum laude with a Bachelor of Arts degree in political science. With a passion for politics, Whitaker completed a Presidential Fellowship with the Independent Colleges and Universities of Florida, working to lobby the Florida legislature for continued funding of the Florida Resident Access Grant.  Throughout her senior year, she participated in the Tampa Bay Area American Committee on Foreign Relations as a student fellow and in June, the committee will send her to represent the chapter at the Young Leaders Initiative in Washington, DC. Whitaker is a member of Alpha Sigma Tau sorority and editor-in-chief of The Lions' Pride, the student newspaper.

Ten graduating students will be presented as ROTC commissionees: Nicholas Argitis; Joseph Carney; Calvin Cribbs; Keanu Gerald; Derek Jodrey; Hans Mueller; Alysa Nantarojanaporn; Caleb Richard; Aisha Schenk; and Eric Stephenson. They will receive their commissions in a ceremony at 6 p.m., Saturday, in the Student Community Center Greenfelder-Denlinger Boardrooms.

The commencement ceremonies will take place in the Marion Bowman Activities Center, 33701 State Road 52, St. Leo, FL 33574. The university is about four miles east of Interstate 75 (Exit 285), and parking is available in surface lots and in the parking garage.

About Saint Leo University
Saint Leo University ( is a modern Catholic teaching university that is firmly grounded in the liberal arts tradition and the timeless Benedictine wisdom that seeks balanced growth of mind, body, and spirit. The Saint Leo University of today is a private, nonprofit institution that creates hospitable learning communities wherever students want to be or need to be, whether that is a campus classroom, a web-based environment, an employer's worksite, a military base, or an office park. Saint Leo welcomes people of all faiths and of no religious affiliation, and encourages learners of all generations. The university is committed to providing educational opportunities to the nation's armed forces, veterans, and their families. Saint Leo is regionally accredited to award degrees ranging from the associate to the doctorate, and the faculty and staff guide all students to develop their capacities for critical thinking, moral reflection, and lifelong learning and leadership.

The university remains the faithful steward of the beautiful lakeside University Campus in the Tampa Bay region of Florida, where its founding monks created the first Catholic college in the state in 1889. Serving more than 13,000 students, Saint Leo has expanded to downtown Tampa, to other sites in Florida and beyond, and maintains a physical presence in seven states. The university provides highly respected online learning programs to students nationally and internationally. More than 90,000 alumni reside in all 50 states, in Washington, DC, in three U.S. territories, and in 76 countries.

Media Contact: Mary McCoy, University Writer & Media Relations,, (352) 588-7118 or cell (813) 610-8416