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Celebrating 50 Years of Excellence, President’s Society Inducts Outstanding Students

Outgoing members of St. John’s University’s President’s Society.
Tuesday, May 2, 2017

Marking a half-century tradition of excellence and leadership, a select group of 20 St. John’s students was inducted into the University’s President’s Society on April 22 during the 50th Anniversary celebration that began with Mass in St. Thomas More Church and culminated with a ceremony and dinner in Taffner Field House, on the Queens, NY, campus.

Induction into the President’s Society is among the highest honors for an undergraduate student to achieve. After an intensive interview process, members are selected for their academic achievements, integrity, leadership, maturity, and commitment to service. They must demonstrate a well-rounded personality by making significant contributions to co-curricular and extracurricular life on campus.

Inductees are considered part of the President’s extended staff. As University ambassadors, they engage dignitaries at commencement exercises, convocations, and other major events, where each member is assigned to a guest.

Conrado “Bobby” Gempesaw, Ph.D., President of St. John’s, greeted the more than 240 guests, including current and former President’s Society members, as well as alumni, administrators, faculty, parents, relatives, and friends. He also presented medals and pins to the inductees, in addition to certificates for members who are graduating in May.

“As we have done for the past 50 years, we are here to welcome the new members of our President’s Society, and to extend our gratitude to the graduating members for all they have done for the University,” said Dr. Gempesaw. “They represent the very best from each college and school.” In addition, Dr. Gempesaw acknowledged the 70 past members who were present for the Society’s Golden Anniversary.

An Enduring Legacy

In his Alumni President’s Society Address, William L. Collins ’76C, ’12HON, CEO of Brencourt Capital Management and Chair of St. John’s Board of Trustees, shared one of his most meaningful experiences as a President’s Society member. In May 1976, Mother Teresa was on campus to receive an honorary degree and Mr. Collins was assigned to her. “What I remember most,” he said, “was how humble she was. Everywhere she went, people wanted to be around her, flocked to her. Being assigned to Mother Teresa was an honor that has stayed with me, and I’m most grateful for it.”

The presence of two legacy families illustrated the President’s Society’s impact across generations. Carolyn Ann Sheehan, M.D. ’81C, with her husband John A. Sheehan, D.M.D. ’81C, was the first former member to have three children inducted: Katherine ’17C, graduating this year; Elizabeth ’14C, ’15G, an Assistant Director of Campus Activities at the University; and Mary ’11TCB. Dr. Sheehan’s nephew, Robert Sluka ’18C, also is a new inductee. Additionally, Christopher T. Freeze ’87C, ’90L, who served from 1986 to 1987, was present to see the induction of his daughter, Christine Freeze ’18Ed.

“It’s amazing to be back on campus, with my third daughter concluding her service in the President’s Society,” said Dr. Sheehan. “We’re a St. John’s family.”

Continuing The Tradition   

Kezia S. Harris ’17TCB delivered the Graduating President’s Society Address. She spoke of the skills and confidence that members gained by representing the University at events such as Grand Alumni Homecoming Weekend, the President’s Dinner, and various commencement ceremonies. “We now have a deeper understanding of how to interact with people of all ages, positions, and stages of life,” she said.

Naveen Abdelwahab ’18C, a President’s Society inductee, is a speech language pathology major from the Staten Island campus. Naveen has worked as a Global Studies Student Ambassador, Orientation Leader, Career Services Career Peer, and is a member of the National Student Speech Language Hearing Association. Naveen has also served as Student Union Chair of Student Government, Inc.

“This is a gift,” said Naveen. “I can now be a role model for my fellow Johnnies and testify that anything can be accomplished with hard work and dedication.”

Another new member, Francisco Rojas ’18TCB is an international student from Mexico and a standout student-athlete. He plays for the men’s soccer team and has served as a student representative on the Strategic Priorities Review Team. He is also a Peer Educator for Student Development, and a member of the Tobin College of Business Executive-in-Residence Program.

“I’ve strived for selection to the President’s Society since my freshman year,” said the business management major. “St. John’s has changed my life in infinite ways—but this is the ultimate honor.”