Convocation Honors Outstanding Alumni

Thursday, June 6, 2013

St. John’s University alumni have achieved remarkable success in every aspect of business and the professions. Many have also embraced the spirit of St. Vincent de Paul by making St. John’s mission of service to others an important part of their lives.

The University recognized the accomplishments of 11 of its most exceptional alumni at the Annual Alumni Convocation, held in St. Thomas More Church on the Queens campus.

The honorees and their awards included:

Medal of Honor
James J. Gaffney ’63CBA, ’07HON
Edward A. Romano ’63CBA, ’08HON

Honorary Degrees
John D. Birchby ’73L, ’13HON
Doctor of Laws, honoris causa

Sr. John Raymond McGann, CSJ ’63Ph.D., ’13HON
Doctor of Humane Letters, honoris causa

Pietas Medal
Jeffry S. Wengroff ’73CBA

Fidelitas Award
Geraldine (’63Ed, ’68GEd) and William A. DeMilt ’63CBA

Alumni Outstanding Achievement Award
Joan Lacagnina ’88CBA
Joseph C. Lang ’63C, ’71G
Thomas J. Principe ’69C, ’73L
Dominick M. Servedio, P.E. ’73MBA

“The alumni whom we honor tonight are individuals very different from each other,” noted St. John’s University President Rev. Donald J. Harrington, C.M., who presented each honoree with his or her award plus a personalized citation detailing their many accomplishments. “And yet, in many ways, there is a similarity that underlies their lives. Each of our honorees, in his or her own way, tells the story of the history of St. John’s. Our honorees are indeed a true reflection of the uniqueness that is St. John’s.”

Honorary degree recipient John Douglas Birchby cannot remember a time when the University was not a part of his life. His father, Kenneth L. Birchby ’49L, ’88HON graduated from St. John’s School of Law, and served as a powerful role model when John was deciding on a career. He decided to follow his father into the legal profession, and chose St. John’s as the university that would turn his dream into reality.

Over the years he has shown his love for St. John’s in a variety of ways. In 2003 John and his father established the Kenneth L. Birchby and John D. Birchby Scholarship Fund to help defray the educational expenses of deserving law students. He is a member of The Founders Society, a group of St. John’s most generous donors, funded the renovation of a lecture hall for law students, and serves as a member of the Dean’s Advisory Council of St. John’s School of Law.

For this quiet and unassuming alumnus, receiving an honorary degree from St. John’s was an incredibly moving experience. “In 1988 my father received an honorary Doctor of Laws degree from the University, and for me to follow in his footsteps is quite an honor,” he said. “Our whole family just loves St. John’s, and it all started with my father. I’m very humbled by this award and I’m so honored to be here.”

Humbled and honored were also the feelings expressed by Medal of Honor recipient James Joseph Gaffney when he learned that he had been selected to receive the highest award that the University can confer upon an alumnus. A former member of St. John’s Board of Trustees, he had been previously honored with the Pietas Medal in 1995, the President’s Medal in 2003 and an honorary Doctor of Commercial Science in 2007.

Receiving the Medal of Honor on the occasion of the 50th Anniversary of his graduation from St. John’s was the perfect opportunity for this loyal alumnus to look back over the past five decades.

“I’m very humbled by the recognition being given to me,” he acknowledged. “I never thought 50 years ago that one day I would be receiving honors from St. John’s. When I got out of high school the University gave me an opportunity, and because of that I’ve been very lucky. You don’t forget when someone gives you a helping hand, and I’m so very grateful for what St. John’s did for me and is still doing for others like me today. I’m very proud to have been a part of the St. John’s family for such a long time.”

Reflecting on their roles as members of the St. John’s family comes naturally to Geraldine and William A. DeMilt. The couple was honored with the Fidelitas Award, which is presented to alumni couples who attended the University at the same time, later married, and over the intervening years have demonstrated their deep commitment to and love for the University that continues to play an important role in their lives.

Geraldine and William met as undergraduates and married a few years after graduation. They have been together for 47 years, and their affection to St. John’s is as strong today as ever.

“Receiving the Fidelitas Award is a great honor,” noted William. “We’ve stayed a part of St. John’s for all these years, and we’ve tried to stay involved as much as we could during that time. We’re strong supporters of the University’s mission of educating people who maybe aren’t the wealthiest kids in town, but have great potential to benefit from all that the University has to offer. We have enormous respect for St. John’s and we’re very proud to be a part of it.”

“We were really thrilled to learn that we’d been selected to receive this award and be recognized at the Convocation,” agreed Geraldine. “The years have passed very quickly since Bill and I first met, and they’ve been wonderful years. And what’s equally wonderful is that St. John’s has been a part of every one of those years. That’s why this award means so much to both of us.”

Our alumni will always hold an important place within the St. John’s family, and like any family, the University is proud of what they have accomplished and how they live their lives. We congratulate our honorees and wish them continued success in the future.