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St. John's 143rd Commencement Exercises Honor Hurricane Sandy Responders

Monday, May 20, 2013

In ceremonies honoring heroic New Yorkers who helped provide relief when Hurricane Sandy struck, more than 3,000 graduates proudly received their degrees during St. John’s University’s 143rd Commencement Exercises this past weekend at the Staten Island and Queens, NY, campuses.

View photo galleries from the Queens and Staten Island commencements and Baccalaureate Mass.

On Saturday, May 18, approximately 2,000 faculty, administrators, families and friends attended the Staten Island exercises. Rev. Patrick J. Griffin, C.M., Director General of the Company of Daughters of Charity of St. Vincent de Paul, served as Commencement speaker. He reflected on his bond with the nearly 300 graduates, whom he welcomed as freshmen four years ago while serving as Executive Vice President for Mission and Branch campuses.

At the Queens campus on Sunday, May 19, a capacity crowd of more than 19,000 guests gathered on the Great Lawn to applaud the approximately 2,800 graduates. Congressman Peter T. King (Second District–NY), who led efforts to secure federal funding for Sandy’s victims, addressed the degree recipients.

Rev. Donald J. Harrington, C.M., President of St. John’s, presided over both ceremonies. He conferred honorary degrees upon Congressman King (Doctor of Laws); double alumna Suzanne Halpin, Executive Vice President, Rubenstein Communications (Doctor of Letters); Fr. Griffin (Doctor of Letters); and Salvatore Cassano, Commissioner of the New York City Fire Department (Doctor of Laws), who accepted on behalf of the department and all who contributed to the safety and security of New Yorkers during and after Hurricane Sandy.

Fr. Harrington, who announced his retirement on May 5 after 24 years as President, reminded the 2013 graduates of the unique opportunity they have ahead of them.

“As I preside as President over my final University Commencement, I have one simple message for you, our graduates,” said Fr. Harrington. “I urge you to believe in St. John’s, and to believe in yourselves. The education you have received will enable you to stand shoulder to shoulder as equals with fellow graduates from some of the most prestigious universities in our land. You are well prepared to forge successful and service-filled lives.”

Addressing the Queens graduates, Congressman King expressed appreciation for their own generosity in helping Superstorm Sandy’s victims. “As someone who grew up in New York City,” he said, “it is truly an honor to be your Commencement Speaker. SuperStorm Sandy was the worst natural disaster to hit our region in 75 years. Lesser people would have given up or, even worse, turned against one another, looking out only for themselves. But that was not the spirit of New York and New Jersey. That is why so many of you donated your time to volunteer in the relief efforts, and not only did we refuse to give in—communities came together to the aid of one another.”

Also at Queens, Ms. Halpin—a University trustee and former Vice President for External Affairs and Special Events—spoke of St. John’s tremendous growth since her days as a student. “The University has completely transformed,” she said. “There are really no other words for it. Thanks to the leadership of Fr. Harrington and the great people who work here, this is now a global university. When I first started here, it was a commuter school. It’s just extraordinary. The quality of the academics and all the initiatives that St. John’s has underway are just amazing.”

Speaking at the Staten Island campus, Fr. Griffin congratulated graduates on their academic achievements and their personal growth as ethical citizens. “As you finish up this phase of your education at St. John’s,” he said. “I am confident that the events of this year have provided you with another element of your education. The importance of your degrees must be joined to the development of character and moral fiber which make us good citizens, reliable neighbors and faith-filled individuals.” 

Commissioner Cassano said he was humbled to receive his honorary degree. “This honor,” he said, “really belongs to the New York City Fire Department, for the heroic efforts of the firefighters, our emergency medical technicians and paramedics who fought heroically during the storm. I’ve lived here for 40 years, and this honor given by St. John’s, such an honored institution on Staten Island, is very pleasing to me and my family.”