News and Events

More Than 1,300 Saint Leo University Students To Participate In Commencement Ceremonies May 11 At Florida State Fairgrounds

Saint Leo will welcome guest speakers Hillsborough County Sheriff Chad Chronister and Florida Representative Fentrice Driskell, the university’s first veteran studies graduate, and 11 graduates from its World Campus program.

Tags: Catholic Identity Commencement University Campus Savannah Education Center Key West Education Center Tampa Education Center MacDill Education Office Center for Adult Learning at University Campus Center for Online Learning Saint Leo WorldWide Academic Affairs Veteran Studies Honors Program Doctorate Graduate Programs Doctoral Degrees Master’s Bachelor’s Associate Baccalaureate Mass
2 May 2024 - By University Communications

They’ve taken their final exams, written their last paper, conducted their last group discussion, and defended their dissertations. Now, more than 1,300 students will celebrate graduating from Saint Leo University during commencement ceremonies on Saturday, May 11, at the Florida State Fairgrounds, 4800 U.S. 301 N., Tampa, FL 33610. There will be 722 undergraduates (bachelor’s and associate degrees) participating and 620 master’s and doctoral degree recipients crossing the stage. 

The graduates studied at Saint Leo’s campus in Pasco County, north of Tampa; at its education centers in Tampa, Key West, and Savannah (GA); at its Center for Adult Learning at University Campus and in Pasco and Hernando counties; at MacDill Air Force Base (Tampa); and online. This year, Saint Leo also will welcome its graduates from its World Campus program with students who live and study online in Latin American countries. Eleven World Campus students will travel to the United States to attend the afternoon ceremony. 


Friday Celebrations

Commencement weekend will begin with a doctoral hooding ceremony at 2:15 p.m., Friday, May 10, in the Marion Bowman Activities Center on the east side of campus, 33701 County Road 52 (formerly State Road 52), St. Leo, FL 33574. 

More than 70 students will receive their ceremonial hoods for their graduation gowns in the colors designating their doctoral degree programs in business administration, criminal justice, and education.


Baccalaureate Mass will follow at 5 p.m., Friday, May 10, in Saint Leo Abbey Church. Abbot Isaac Camacho, Class of 1995, of the Benedictine Monks of Saint Leo Abbey, will celebrate the Mass, and pray for all graduating students, their families, and all faculty and staff. For those unable to attend Baccalaureate Mass in person, it will be livestreamed via Facebook Live at

Then it will be time to celebrate at 6:30 p.m. at Saint Leo Night to Shine, which will be held at the university’s Wellness Center. The soon-to-be graduates, their families, faculty, and staff will celebrate with appetizers, drinks, and music. For many graduates, this will be the first time they have visited University Campus.

Saturday Morning Ceremony

Saint Leo University’s commencement exercises begin at 9 a.m., Saturday, May 11, at the Florida State Fairgrounds Expo Hall in Tampa. 

Graduating during this ceremony will be 642 students:

● University Campus and education center undergraduate students — bachelor’s and associate degrees;

● Doctor of Business Administration (DBA) students; and, 

● Master’s degree students — accounting, computer science, creative writing, cybersecurity, and social work.

Serving as faculty marshal will be Dr. Lisa Rapp-McCall, professor of social work.


Giving the commencement address at the morning ceremony will be Hillsborough County Sheriff Chad Chronister. A veteran law enforcement officer who has served with the Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office for the past 32 years, Chronister earned his bachelor’s and master’s degrees in criminal justice from Saint Leo University and is a graduate of the FBI National Academy's 260th session. 

At the morning ceremony, valedictorian and salutatorians for University Campus and the university’s education centers will be recognized:

University Campus

Isabella Riano, of Naples, FL, is the valedictorian. An Honors Program student, who is graduating summa cum laude with a Bachelor of Arts in psychology: clinical/counseling, she was born in Miami and grew up in Colombia, living there until she was 15. Her long-term goal is to become a licensed clinical psychologist and help children. 

Cole Washko, of Bradenton, FL, is the salutatorian. He is graduating summa cum laude with a Bachelor of Arts degree in English: professional writing. Washko served in the U.S. Air Force for four years as a hydraulic technician. After leaving the military, he chose to attend Saint Leo, where he served as the office manager for the Military Resource Center on campus, helping to connect student-veterans with the appropriate resources. During his senior year, Washko was hired full time as a public information officer (PIO) for Sarasota County, FL. 

Education Centers

Sylvia Elaine Chaney, of Temple Terrace/Tampa, FL, is the valedictorian and was a student at the Tampa Education Center. She is graduating summa cum laude with Bachelor of Social Work  degree. Chaney was the recipient of a Leven "Chuck" Wilson Scholarship Award for “Influential Women in Social Work” as well as the Dennis and Cathy Mullen Endowed Scholarship Award. She will pursue a Master of Social Work degree at Florida State University. 

Genair Tanoa Kirnes, of Tampa, FL is the salutatorian and also was a student at the Tampa Education Center. She is graduating summa cum laude with a Bachelor of Social Work degree. As a student at Saint Leo, Kirnes was a member of the Iota Gamma chapter of the Phi Alpha Honor Society and the recipient of a first-generation student scholarship. She will attend the University of Central Florida to pursue a Master of Social Work degree. 

First Veteran Studies Graduate 

Another Saint Leo graduate can claim the honor of being the first graduate in Saint Leo University’s Bachelor of Arts in Veteran Studies Program. Devon Wilson of Riverview, FL, is the “first of the first,” as the university created the first veteran studies bachelor’s degree in the United States, and Wilson is the inaugural graduate. 

Wilson served in the U.S. Navy for 20 years and is a retired enlisted surface warfare-qualified military police officer (MPO). 


Saturday Afternoon Ceremony

Saint Leo University’s afternoon commencement exercises begin at 2:30 p.m., Saturday, May 11, also at the Florida State Fairgrounds Expo Hall in Tampa, and 700 students are expected to participate. 


Graduating during this ceremony will be:

● Center for Online Learning undergraduate students — bachelor’s and associate degrees;

● Doctoral students — criminal justice and education;

● Education specialist students; and, 

● Master’s degree students — business administration, education, criminal justice, emergency and disaster management, human services, instructional design, psychology, and theology.

The faculty marshal for the afternoon commencement ceremony will be Dr. Randall Woodard, associate professor of religion and theology


Giving the commencement address at the morning ceremony will be State Representative Fentrice D. Driskell, House minority leader. She was first elected to the Florida House of Representatives in November 2018. In 2022, Driskell’s peers unanimously elected her as leader of the Democratic Caucus, making her the first Black woman to lead either caucus in the Florida House.

Driskel represents the 67th House District and is a partner with Swope Rodante law firm in Tampa. 

The Center for Online Learning valedictorian and salutatorian are: 

Alexandra Georgina Calabro, of Davenport, FL, is the valedictorian, and is graduating summa cum laude with a Bachelor of Arts in elementary education. Calabro said three brain surgeries left her starting over, physically and mentally. Thanks to the support of her husband, three children, and Saint Leo, she is fulfilling her goal of obtaining a bachelor’s degree in elementary education

Katie Teresa Vaughn, of St. Augustine, FL, is the salutatorian, and is graduating summa cum laude with a Bachelor of Arts in elementary education. Her goal is to continue to inspire, empower, and uplift the next generation of learners through academics and extracurricular activities. Vaughn continues to hone these skills as a Paraprofessional at Pine Island Academy and aspires to become their newest fifth grade teacher next school year.

Livestream Available

Friends and family who are not able to attend the ceremony in person may watch via livestreaming video. A link will be posted on the day of the ceremony at to access the livestream.