by, Samantha Walla, Senior Writer
I first met Matt Sweeney on a Friday or Saturday night in a Greystone apartment, everyone eager to shake off the week and their responsibilities that came with it. Elbow to elbow with solo cup-handling students, he told me about the issue of water drainage in Van Cortlandt Park. When we parted, I heard him move on to another partygoer, allowing an insuppressible passion to run wild.
Sweeney, or “the mayor,” as he is affectionately known on campus, began his interest in environmental engineering and public service as a freshman. These interests have cinched his reputation not only in the Riverdale community, but by the Irish Echo, a prominent Irish American newspaper.
The Irish Echo’s annual 40 under 40 list highlights Irish Americans on their way to becoming prominent members of their communities or fields. The list is composed of lawyer and doctor-types, well into their careers, VPs and this year, Matt Sweeney.
As a prominent member of the Manhattan College and Riverdale community, Sweeney has served as chairperson of the Neighborhood Relations Committee for two years, former vice president of MC’s chapter of the New York Water Environment Association, and a WRCM DJ. His proudest achievement (on Riverdale soil, at least) is the community cleanup of Dogwood Junction, which he organized last fall.
Sweeney admits that this semester is a lot. Between the course load of his final semester, a research project and his internship at Langan Engineering, he’s flying around the city more than usual. Sweeney will continue his internship, at which he surveys and remediates properties, before returning to Manhattan as a grad student.
As he explained the basics of his internship responsibilities, I was reminded of the charisma that originally struck me when we first met, only strengthened by the experiences he had leading up to senior year, void of the exhaustion and fear that over whelms so many students in their final semester.
“So, pretend [you] are buying something, an empty lot or a building… You’ve got some money, you don’t want to be buying something with a massive amount of contamination,” Sweeney said. “You’ll hire my company to come and basically figure out what contamination, if any, is on the site.”
This position sends Sweeney around the city as a sort of contaminant detective, doing everything from soil drilling to site research, including work on the new Disney headquarters under construction in Manhattan. As he moves into his fifth year at Manhattan College, Sweeney hopes to explore his interests in public service and urban planning.
These passions, along with a recommendation from friend and mentor Rob Walsh, Director of Strategic Plans at Manhattan College, cinched his nomination for The Irish Echo’s 40 under 40. After a period of voting, the virtual event recognized Sweeney and 39 other notable Irish figures on Friday, February 26.
“I did not expect to be nominated,” Sweeney said. “Mostly because I don’t have a career to speak of yet.”
The push to include Sweeney in the nominations came from Rob Walsh, completing a pair well known around campus for chatting up students sitting on the Quad before heading to Kingsbridge Social Club for a slice of pizza, while talking over master plans to transform the college and Riverdale community.
Walsh was initially struck by Sweeney’s passion for removing invasive species of plants in Van Cortlandt Park, described as an “eight-eyed octopus the size of the Empire State Building.” Since that moment, a friendship has bloomed.
“He has two siblings, deployed onto different parts of the campus. And that’s why we see him on the Quad, then down at Leo, then at Kelly… I’ve been tempted to have Public Safety trail him, to see where he meets up with his twins.” said Walsh. “We’re onto you Sweeney.”
Sweeney recalls a funny moment from the ceremony, which normally takes place in New York City. The event took place after a month and a half of anticipation, with family and friends in attendance. This included Sweeney’s father, who has the same name. When the time came to present Matt Sweeney, he realized that he had not been granted access to speak.
“They tried to let my dad in,” laughed Sweeney. Sweeney recounted the snafu complete with the Irish accents of the presenters.
Sweeney noted that the event, which lasted several hours, was a great boost for him and his career. Despite his age and relatively short career as compared to the others recognized, he attested that he will live up to his award.
Sweeney, or one of his clones, still finds time for hobbies. Sweeney enjoys hiking, fishing and gardening (he makes his own hot sauce), as well as building his vinyl collection. His favorite record? At the moment, Sweeney points to a German printing of Help! by the Beatles, which he enjoyed playing for his German grandmother. He attests that this answer is always changing.