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President’s Dinner Raises $2.4 Million for Student Scholarships

Left to right: Mr. Tarantino, Ms. Tarantino, Ms. Lawrence, Dr. Clavel Gempesaw, Dr. Gempesaw, Br. Smith, and Mr. Alter.
Tuesday, February 7, 2017

Since its inception in 1998, St. John’s University’s President’s Dinner has honored friends, alumni, and other leaders who embrace the spirit of St. Vincent de Paul by striving to make the world a better place.

This year’s event continued the dinner’s tradition of showcasing Vincent’s legacy. At the same time, it celebrated the generosity of those who share St. John’s commitment to helping students— the October 27 event raised $2.4 million in scholarship support.

The Ballroom of the Waldorf Astoria New York during the President’s Dinner.

More than 825 members of the St. John’s community gathered at the Waldorf Astoria New York for the 19th annual President’s Dinner, where they recognized notable friends and alumni through the presentation of the Spirit of Service Award.

Conrado “Bobby” Gempesaw, Ph.D., President of St. John’s, thanked the guests for their support. He also offered his personal congratulations to the evening’s recipients of the Spirit of Service Award. “Through their generosity, compassion, and service to those who are most in need,” said Dr. Gempesaw, “they exemplify the legacy of St. Vincent de Paul.”

Br. Alfred J. Smith, C.M., was recognized for his work as Founder and Operational Director of Inn Dwelling, a nonprofit charitable organization in Germantown, PA, that helps students break the cycle of poverty and make a difference in their communities. “My whole life has been about serving the community following St. Vincent de Paul,” he said. “This gives me a great feeling of satisfaction.”

St. John’s also presented the honor posthumously to Valerie, Ph.D. (’49CBA) and Gerard A. Sodano ’49CBA. Jane Lawrence, niece of the Sodanos, accepted the award on their behalf. Recalling the philanthropic work of her aunt and uncle, Ms. Lawrence said, “They held the belief that no matter how humble one’s beginning might be, with support and encouragement everyone deserves the opportunity to succeed.”

For the first time, the University also presented the award to a corporation—UnitedHealthcare. Accepting on the company’s behalf was Jeffrey D. Alter ’84CBA, ’88MBA, CEO, UnitedHealthcare–Commercial Group. “As an alum of St. John’s,” he said, “this award means so much to me. I believe our organizational values are very aligned with the values that St. John’s instills in all its students.”

Award recipients Eileen (’80CBA) and Joseph A. Tarantino ’80CBA, President and Chief Executive Officer, Protiviti Inc., said they owe the University a great deal—it’s where they first met as freshmen. “We dated for seven years before we got married,” said Ms. Tarantino. Her husband recalled that, like many St. John’s students, he came from humble beginnings. “It was a terrific value for the tuition of about $2,000 a year at that time—to get an education and a spouse.”

“The stories of tonight’s honorees are very similar to those of many of our current students,” noted Rev. Bernard M. Tracey, C.M., Executive Vice President for Mission. “Theirs is the story of hardworking, middle-class families who were given an opportunity to succeed by St. John’s. The President’s Dinner celebrates that and more, while highlighting the generosity of those who help to provide the scholarships so many of our students need to follow in the footsteps of the people here tonight."

President’s Society members Richard Cantoral ’17C and Kassidy R. Daly ’17CPS sang at the Dinner.

With many students in attendance at the dinner, it was evident that the evening ultimately was about them. Sarah Gunther ’16CPS, ’18GCPS, a student volunteer, shared her experience. “I’m living proof that the President’s Dinner gives a great deal back to the St. John’s community,” she said. “Without the financial aid I receive, I would not be able to attend St. John’s.”

“This is an amazing event,” said Kristen Greto ’16CPS, ’18MBA, another student volunteer. “The turnout shows how much the University cares about all of its students— including me.” According to Kenneth Cizak ’16TCB, ’17MBA, the dinner “sets a precedent of supporting the University that I hope to follow someday."