Daemen Announces Commencement Speakers

By | March 6, 2024

An ariel view of the Daemen University 2023 undergraduate commencement ceremony.Daemen University is proud to announce that Lana Benatovich and Robert Gioia, both members of the university’s Board of Trustees, have been selected as the 2024 commencement speakers.

Benatovich will serve as the undergraduate ceremony speaker, and Gioia will serve as the graduate ceremony speaker.

The ceremonies will be held on Saturday, May 18 at Kleinhans Music Hall, with the undergraduate ceremony to take place at noon and the graduate ceremony to follow at 4:30 p.m.

Per tradition, the Grammy Award-winning Buffalo Philharmonic Chorus will be featured during both ceremonies.

Headshot of Lana BenatovichLana Benatovich

Lana Benatovich is the former president of the National Federation for Just Communities of Western York, an organization dedicated to overcoming racism, bias, and bigotry by building a just and inclusive community through education, advocacy, and engagement.

Benatovich served on the boards of St. Bonaventure University and the Network of Religious Communities and was also a commissioner on the Commission on Citizens’ Rights and Community Relations for the City of Buffalo. She is past chairperson of the Erie County Coordinating Council on Children and Families and is past president of the Buffalo Council on World Affairs.

Her work in the community has garnered Benatovich numerous accolades including, the Leadership Buffalo Inclusion Award and the Women of Distinction honor from the Girl Scouts of Western New York. She is a also Western New York Women’s Hall of Fame honoree.

A Leadership Buffalo graduate, Benatovich earned a master’s degree in educational psychology from Columbia University and a bachelor’s degree in early childhood education from Tufts University.

Headshot of Robert GioiaRobert Gioia

Robert Gioia has been a strong community leader dedicated to the betterment of the Western New York region for decades.

Gioia began his career in 1970 as a part of the third generation of the family operating the Gioia Macaroni Company. He also served as a principal with the Food Group of Strategic Investments and Holdings, Inc.

Gioia was chairman of the NFTA from 1990-1998, pioneering the completion of the $120 million Buffalo-Niagara International Airport.

In 2007, Gioia was named president of the John R. Oishei Foundation, one of the largest private foundations in the region. For 15 years, he led a team that awarded more than $240 million in grants to support organizations and causes in various sectors.

Gioia currently serves as the chair of Great Lakes Health and the Buffalo Center for Arts and Technology. He was also board president of Nichols School and the Martin House Restoration Corporation, chairman of the Erie Canal Harbor Development Corporation, Community Foundation for Greater Buffalo and the Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra, a director of Roswell Park Cancer Institute, and a trustee at St. Lawrence University.

In 2023, President Joe Biden nominated Gioia to serve on the International Joint Commission (IJC). The IJC operates as an adviser to both the United States and Canadian governments on matters of common interest between the two countries. Gioia’s nomination must be approved by the U.S. Senate.

Gioia has received several awards for his community involvement, including the Distinguished Citizen Achievement Award from Canisius College, the Humanitarian of the Year Award from the Hope for Tomorrow Foundation, the Distinguished Service Award from the ECMC Lifeline Foundation, and the prestigious Spirit Award by the Kaleida Foundation. He has been named The Buffalo News Citizen of the Year three times and the Buffalo Niagara Executive of the Year by UB’s School of Management.