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Nazareth University’s 2024 Commencement speaker is photographer Manuel Rivera-Ortiz

Published March 15, 2024

Manuel Rivera-Ortiz ’95, a renowned photographer best known within the world of documentary photography for his passionate depictions of real life, is Nazareth University’s Commencement speaker on May 17 and 18, 2024. Nazareth will ceremoniously grant an honorary degree to Rivera-Ortiz during one of the ceremonies.

Born and raised in Puerto Rico, his early experiences living in distressed conditions amid the sugarcane fields on the island's southeast coast profoundly influenced his narrative style. His family lived in dirt floor huts, cooking on an open fire or cheap liquid gas stove. Water came from a spring; clothes were washed at a nearby stream. 

Rivera-Ortiz and his family relocated to Holyoke, Massachusetts, when he was 10. There, through the Massachusetts Migrant Education Program at Mount Holyoke College and Springfield College, a program serving non-English-speaking children of migrant workers, he took his first pictures and developed his first roll of film, a modest beginning of his life’s work. 

The City of Rochester became home to Rivera-Ortiz’s family when he was in middle school. He mastered the English language and graduated from East High School. From there he took classes at Rochester Institute of Technology, then graduated, cum laude, from Nazareth College as an English major. He then received a master's degree from the Pulitzer School of Journalism at Columbia University in New York City.

His photography predominantly centers on the lives of individuals in less developed countries, reflecting society's overlooked and often forgotten segments. His work reflects a firsthand account of the human condition, highlighting endurance, adversity, pride, and the universal desire for a better life.

Rivera-Ortiz is committed to using his photography as a medium for social change. In 2010, he founded La Fondation Manuel Rivera-Ortiz (FMRO) in Arles, France. FMRO supports photographers and filmmakers worldwide, including women and those from under-represented backgrounds, engaged in social documentary projects. FMRO’s mission is to give a voice to all, regardless of background or gender.

He is also a mentor and educator who guides emerging photographers in ethical storytelling and respectful representation. His commitment to education reflects his belief in the transformative power of visual media as a tool for awareness and societal change.

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Julie Long | Senior News & PR Officer | | (585) 389-2456 | (585) 781-8186 (cell)

Nazareth University is an inclusive community of inspired learners, educators, and changemakers who for nearly 100 years have been driven by a bold commitment to action, empathy, equity, and leading innovation for the common good. Impact experiences are at the heart of a Nazareth education, preparing each student to discover within themselves the potential to cultivate positive change in their life's work, in any career field, and in a world that is constantly evolving and infinitely interconnected.

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