Obverse side of the President's Medal with the words Academic Achievement, Community Service, Leadership/Creativity

Buffalo State Announces President’s Medal Winners, Student Speakers for 152nd Commencement Celebration


Three of Buffalo State University’s most accomplished students—two of whom will receive the Buffalo State President’s Medal—have been chosen to deliver the student address at the university’s 152nd Commencement ceremonies on Saturday, May 18, in the campus Sports Arena. 

Shenese K. Patterson, recipient of the President’s Medal for Outstanding Graduate Student, will deliver the School of the Professions student address at the 9:00 a.m. ceremony; Zoe E. Goñez, recipient of the President’s Medal for Outstanding Undergraduate Student, will deliver the School of Arts and Sciences student address at the 1:00 p.m. ceremony; and Leslie M. Lawrence will deliver the School of Education student address at the university’s 5:00 p.m. ceremony.

The President’s Medal, the highest student honor bestowed by Buffalo State, recognizes one undergraduate student and one graduate student annually for their exceptional academic achievement, community service, leadership, and creativity.

Shenese K. Patterson

School of the Professions Student Address | 9:00 a.m.

Headshot of Shenese Patterson

Shenese Patterson has earned a master of science in higher education and student affairs administration (HESAA), attaining a 3.94 GPA while exemplifying leadership and commitment to her peers as president of the Graduate Student Association and graduate representative on the Buffalo State College Senate.

A dedicated scholar with an exceptional level of involvement across campus, Patterson has made impressive contributions in various capacities. From serving as a peer mentor, orientation leader, and resident assistant to taking on roles as a student ambassador, graduate assistant in the LoRusso Alumni and Visitor Center, and assistant complex director for the Residence Life Office, she has left a lasting mark on nearly every facet of campus life. Her dedication extends to her roles as a residence director, activity coordinator for the Summer EOP Program, and election worker for student government.

Patterson’s academic pursuits are complemented by a keen interest in contemporary issues. She conducted an independent study focusing on Buffalo State’s response, alongside similar institutions, to student concerns and political tensions during the COVID-19 pandemic and Black Lives Matter movement. This research showcased her analytical prowess and led to her service on the university’s Social Justice Subcommittee of the President’s Equity and Campus Diversity Council.

Recognized for her academic excellence and advocacy, Patterson is a recipient of the Thomas J. Quatroche Memorial Scholarship. She is deeply committed to creating more accessible and inclusive spaces to promote student success and retention. Known for her critical thinking and innovative approach, she continually seeks to address challenges through research and data-driven strategies, embodying the qualities of a strategic leader who values understanding the skills, abilities, and challenges of others.

Beyond her academic and research endeavors, Patterson actively engages in citizenship both on and off campus. She volunteers with the HESAA Buddy Program, the Anne Frank Project, and Bengals Dare to Care Day, demonstrating her commitment to community service. In her role as vice president of Pride Alliance, she collaborates with community partners to organize annual events and programs aimed at enhancing awareness and inclusiveness for the LGBTQ+ community. Additionally, as vice president and philanthropy chair of the Zeta Chi Omega sorority, she spearheads community service initiatives to support local organizations.

Zoe E. Goñez 

School of Arts and Sciences Student Address | 1:00 p.m.

Headshot of Zoe Gonez

Zoe Goñez has earned a bachelor of arts in theater with a minor in television and film arts, attaining a 3.90 GPA while serving as president of Casting Hall Productions, the university’s student-run theater production company. She has combined outstanding academic performance with significant contributions to the Theater Department, the student body, and the university.

Goñez is a dean’s list student who consistently exhibits a strong work ethic, critical thinking skills, and a genuine passion for learning. Her exceptional academic record is a testament to her dedication, intellectual curiosity, and commitment to excellence.

Goñez served as public relations and marketing manager and vice president of Casting Hall before being elected by her peers as president of the organization for her senior year. As president, she developed workshops, supported mainstage productions, and hosted activities to increase membership. Talented and versatile, she played the lead role in the sold-out run of Medea in spring 2023 and assistant directed On the Verge in fall 2023. During the fall 2023 semester, she also wrote a 60-page television pilot script titled Echoes of Dolls that she submitted to the Writers Guild of America (WGA) and received WGA certification. This spring, Goñez starred in the premiere production of Teach, written by local playwright Donna Hoke and performed at Buffalo State. She also worked as script supervisor for The Wrong Road, a short film written by Buffalo State alumnus and Emmy Award–winning writer Tom Fontana, ’73. In this role, she made academic and professional connections that she will maintain well after graduation.

Beyond campus, she successfully auditioned and is now eligible for the highly selective and prestigious summer- and semester-long residencies at the National Theater Institute’s Eugene O’Neill Theater Center in Connecticut. She also edited the music video There Is Power by musician MYQ Farrow.

Dedicated to the theater community, she has mentored and inspired fellow students and aspiring actors through her role as a summer teaching artist at Shea’s Performing Arts Center in Buffalo. She has professionally stage-managed a production for a local high school in 2023 as well as the first production of The Magical Closet Mystery at Shea’s 710 Theater in spring 2024.

Leslie M. Lawrence

School of Education Student Address | 5:00 p.m.

Headshot of Leslie Lawrence

Leslie Lawrence has earned a master of science in education in childhood and early childhood curriculum and instruction, attaining a 4.0 GPA while working as a full-time Community Action Organization (CAO) Head Start teacher with toddlers from low-income families in Buffalo.

Lawrence has demonstrated remarkable achievement in the areas of academic excellence, citizenship, career achievement, and community outreach related to her field of study. She has also shown extraordinary perseverance, completing her bachelor’s and master’s degrees at Buffalo State while battling cancer. She contributes to class discussions, works collaboratively with her classmates, and synthesizes her life experiences and new information from courses to develop exemplary course projects.

In her Head Start classroom, she expertly plans activities for her students designed to foster their cognitive, social, emotional, and physical development, weaving in the new understandings she has gained through her coursework at Buffalo State. Her director and colleagues look to her as a model teacher as evidenced by the four awards she has earned through CAO, including the 2019 Teacher of the Year Award. She builds strong relationships with the families of the children in her classroom, helping them navigate community resources available to help them overcome the challenges they face.

Lawrence is a born leader who has developed her leadership capacity as a member of the National Society of Leadership and Success (NSLS). This leadership honor society includes an accredited leadership development program that awards digital badges showcasing skills and competencies. Through NSLS, she has earned successive awards for Foundational Leadership, Advanced Leadership, and Executive Leadership. She gives back to the community through multiple programs at her workplace and through annual fundraising activities for a children’s hospital.

Lawrence is a shining example of a student who came to Buffalo State to achieve excellence and change the world. She has used her natural talents and acquired skills to pursue her passion for teaching and learning and has inspired others to do the same. She has overcome adversity, has persisted in her goals, and will be a transformative educator for years to come.

Student photos by Jesse Steffan-Colucci, Buffalo State photographer.
President's Medal photo by Buffalo State Marketing and Communications.