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Caps Off to SNHU's Class of 2024 at Spring Commencement

Southern New Hampshire University's Class of 2024 gathered to celebrate graduation, marking the culmination of their hard work and dedication at four spring commencement ceremonies.
SNHU President Dr. Paul J. LeBlanc making a commencement address at the SNHU Arena.

This weekend, the SNHU Arena buzzed with an energy that only comes a couple of times a year — the excitement of Southern New Hampshire University's (SNHU) Commencement.

The arena may have felt like a finish line for graduates, yet they began a new chapter as part of a 244,000-member alumni community. It's here, in Manchester, New Hampshire, that families, friends, staff and faculty gathered to celebrate the culmination of years of hard work. 

Recognizing Change, Grit and Student Success

SNHU President Dr. Paul J. LeBlanc at the Spring 2024 CommencementFor SNHU President Dr. Paul J. LeBlanc, the Spring 2024 Commencement weekend was his final one, as he will step down on June 30 from his role. LeBlanc has been president of SNHU for 21 years and under his leadership, more than 200,000 students have realized their dreams of earning a degree. 

In his opening remarks, LeBlanc said that many of the students graduating in 2024 had begun their educations amid the pandemic and noted the perseverance it took to see their degrees through. "You were courageous; you were resilient, gritty — you were brave," he said. 

He also asked the class of 2024 to consider him an honorary member because he is leaving SNHU and will soon be out in the world along with them, embarking on his next steps. 

At each ceremony, LeBlanc spoke of graduates he met throughout the weekend, sharing a bit of their stories. Some of those include:

  • Mary Beth Dayley '24G, who earned her Master of Art (MA) in Creative Writing online at 80 — nearly 40 years after she earned her bachelor's degree. Dayley is a mother of five, grandmother of 15 and great-grandmother of 6 who has modeled the importance of lifelong learning to her family. She traveled from Utah to New Hampshire as the eldest spring 2024 graduate.

  • SNHU President Paul J. Leblanc and Mary Beth Dayley, a SNHU graduate with her Master of Art in Creative WritingAnother great-grandparent who made the trip to Commencement is U.S. Air Force veteran Jeffrey Koutnik '24. His degree journey is nearly 45 years in the making. After taking courses in the 1980s, Koutnik returned to college and earned his BS in Business Administration online. He graduated at 64 and hopes to use his project management concentration in his current role working at an Air Force base.     
  • Tanner McCarthy '24 earned her Bachelor of Science (BS) in Mechanical Engineering with a minor in robotics on SNHU's campus. Her passion for engineering sparked in high school where her love of art transformed into a fascination for building and soldering. She has a summer internship lined up in Texas where she'll design and troubleshoot components for trains. 

Honoring President LeBlanc’s Transformational Work and Legacy

Lisa Marsh Ryerson, SNHU's current university provostIn her introduction for LeBlanc, Lisa Marsh Ryerson, SNHU's current university provost, spoke of how he had emigrated from Canada as a child, the youngest of five children in a working-class environment. His parents' education didn't go beyond what we now consider to be middle school. He became the first in his family to graduate from college.

"This experience fueled his vision and passion to ensure that higher education become more accessible ... for more people," said Ryerson. Since LeBlanc joined the university in 2003, SNHU has grown from 2,500 students to more than 250,000 learners worldwide today.

Yet, from the beginning, LeBlanc identified with the students he met. In his final address at the end of Commencement weekend, he said “Twenty-one years ago, I came to SNHU, and I felt like I was meeting myself in our all look a lot like me in terms of our backgrounds. No one is handing it to you, no one is entitled. You work so hard. That hasn’t changed from 21 years ago, it’s as true today of all of you who are graduating.” 

SNHU President Dr. Paul J. Leblanc on stage at the 2024 Spring CommencementAnd his dedication to providing affordable access to high-quality high education remains. 

"Under Paul's leadership, SNHU has transformed from a small regional university to an internationally known leader in higher education," Ryerson said. To honor the departing president, Ryerson announced that the The President Paul J. LeBlanc First-Generation Scholarship Fund has been created to help first-generation college students achieve their dreams.

Beginning July 1, Ryerson will assume the role of president. "SNHU will be in very, very good hands," LeBlanc said.

SNHU's Spring Class of 2024

SNHU Class of 2024 during Spring 2024 CommencementThis year, four in-person ceremonies were held at the SNHU Arena, with a virtual Commencement planned for Sat., May 25, available to all graduates. Each ceremony over the weekend was also live-streamed, allowing families, friends and supporters globally to take in these special days.

With this May's Commencement ceremonies, SNHU's Spring Class of 2024 celebrated the degree completion of 16,800 eligible students, including 1,876 military-affiliated learners. An estimated 4,700 graduates attended ceremonies throughout the weekend, with an additional 25,000 friends, family and guests in attendance as well. Graduates represented all 50 states and 49 countries, ranging in age from 15-80 years old.

Conferred degrees included:

The National Anthem was performed by members of the SNHU community at each ceremony. Jessica Caldwell, director of academic advising at SNHU, sang at the culminating ceremony on Sunday, while the following members of the graduating class performed at the additional ceremonies:

Graduates also served as featured speakers at each ceremony and are highlighted below.

From Malaysia to Manchester

Kayleigh An Philip, SNHU graduate with her BA in communication with a minor in esportsSpeaker Kayleigh An Philip '24 earned her BA in Communication with a minor in esports. A campus student, Philip came to the U.S. at the age of 16 to attend college at SNHU.

"In August of 2022, I said goodbye to my family and hopped on a 30-hour flight from Malaysia to America to finish out my degree at 18," she said. She immersed herself in campus life, working as a Penmen Guide and resident assistant (RA), and getting involved with the International Student Association and the esports program.

In her speech, Philip acknowledged her family — dispersed globally — speaking of their support and the opportunity they provided for her to complete her degree. Next up, she'll begin a career in the esports industry and she aspires to continue her education.

"Someday, she will have her master's, and she tells me her PhD, and I look forward to meeting Dr. Kayleigh when I run into her," LeBlanc said.

Resilience on Display

Miriam Bibi Ahammed, an SNHU first-generation graduate with her Master of Education (MEd) online.Speaker Miriam Bibi Ahammed '24G, a first-generation graduate raised in Durban, South Africa, earned her Master of Education (MEd) online. Ahammed said she believed education would be the key to her success and that finding the right path wasn't easy. She said she found hers through SNHU.

"However, just as my path seemed clear, life threw me a curveball: a diagnosis of breast cancer," she said. "During this defining moment ... the true strength of the SNHU community shone through."

Ahammed said her faculty, advisors and peer tutors became support anchors — offering her encouragement and guidance. Her advisors provided invaluable assistance during her treatment, she said, and her instructors helped give her references and support in her pursuit of a doctoral program.

"Their belief in me propelled me forward, even when doubt threatened to engulf me," Ahammed said.

Generational Guidance

Riccardo Jaquar Richburg, SNHU graduate with an Associate in Science in Business Administration online.Speaker Riccardo Jaquar Richburg '24, a published author and minister, graduated with high honors with his Associate of Science (AS) in Business Administration online.

In his speech, Richburg recalled a conversation with his late grandfather when he was feeling self-doubt that allowed him to realize all that he needed was within his own hands and reach – and that this was true for each of his classmates, too. It changed the way he saw himself and what he believed he had the ability to achieve.

"I say to each of you, today something is being placed in our hands. This is more than a nice grade or type of paper with some fancy writing on it," he said. "This degree is proof that when faced with bowing out, even gracefully, you defied the odds. No surrender and no retreat are what got you here today."

The Ladder of Achievement

Martha N. Rodriguez, SNHU graduate who earned her BA in Psychology onlineThe weekend's final speaker Martha N. Rodriguez '24, earned her BA in Psychology online, with plans to become a teacher and then earn her master's to become a school counselor. She compared seeking education to climbing a ladder, noting that not every ladder was in pristine shape to allow an easy climb — nor was any ladder the same.

"To get to our hopes and dreams, I'd like to think we all carry an invisible ladder to get us there," she said. "Today, we celebrate that very climb. The climb took determination, commitment and courage."

Choking up a bit when acknowledging her own climb, she was cheered on by her husband and classmates in the arena. When looking back on each of the steps that helped graduates get to the finish line, Rodriguez said that SNHU was a part of the ladder that got them where they are today. 

The Clap Line – An SNHU Tradition

SNHU President Dr. Paul J. Leblanc walking out of the SNHU 2024 Commencement surrounding by SNHU faculty and staff

After tassels turned and ending processional began, graduates experienced a beloved SNHU tradition at each ceremony's end — the clap line. Hundreds of faculty and staff, with pom-poms and hand clappers aloft, lined the exit, cheering on graduates as they departed the arena. It's an emotional moment for many and a lasting memory for all. And a final clap line was added this year, this time with staff and faculty rallying with cheers, and some tears, to celebrate and pay tribute to their longtime president.

In his closing remarks at the last ceremony, Leblanc reflected on his time at SNHU — and what’s still ahead.  

“When I came here 21 years ago, I felt like I found a home. It’s time to leave, and I’m already homesick for my family (at SNHU). I still have a few weeks to go so there’s time for goodbyes, but your graduation is like my Christmas/Super Bowl/Birthday all wrapped up into one. This is the best day of the year for all of us,” he said. “SNHU’s best chapters are ahead of it. It’s been the honor of a lifetime to be your president. I love you all — I love this university that has transformed so many lives, but especially mine.”

Recordings of all ceremonies are available on the Spring 2024 | SNHU Commencements YouTube playlist.

A degree can change your life. Choose your program from 200+ SNHU degrees and start working toward your own graduation day.

Nicholas Patterson ’22 is a writer and alumnus of Southern New Hampshire University (SNHU), where he earned his bachelor’s degree in English and creative writing. He is currently honing his craft further as he pursues an MFA in Creative Writing from SNHU. Connect with him on LinkedIn.

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About Southern New Hampshire University

Two students walking in front of Monadnock Hall

SNHU is a nonprofit, accredited university with a mission to make high-quality education more accessible and affordable for everyone.

Founded in 1932, and online since 1995, we’ve helped countless students reach their goals with flexible, career-focused programs. Our 300-acre campus in Manchester, NH is home to over 3,000 students, and we serve over 135,000 students online. Visit our about SNHU page to learn more about our mission, accreditations, leadership team, national recognitions and awards.