When Bernardette Vaskas '57UC graduated magna cum laude from St. John's University in 1957, the Cold War and the arms race between the world's super powers were well underway. Having majored in Mathematics and minored in Physics, this intelligent young woman embarked upon what she believed to be a rewarding career at one of the world's leading military-industrial facilities.
"I thought I was going to work at Sperry Gyroscope on guided missiles," she recalled, "and I actually began doing that until the recession of 1958 hit. I hadn't been working there for very long and had a low employee number, so they let me go."
Undaunted by what would subsequently prove to be a career-defining moment, Vaskas learned from a friend that an actuarial firm was seeking to hire someone with her educational background. "Because I had a degree from St. John's and had studied a lot of different things, I applied for the job and was invited to join the firm, which was known as Buck Consultants. Later, when Sperry called me back, I asked them if they could guarantee my job. They said that they couldn't, and so I decided to stay where I was."
Her degree in Mathematics provided the perfect foundation for her entrance into the actuarial field, and during her tenure at the firm she rose from Account Executive to Partner, the position she held at the time of her retirement in August, 1995. "I always told everyone [at the firm] that I was only a temporary employee," she remarked. "It turned out that I was ‘temporarily' there for 37 years before I took early retirement! I was a pension plan specialist."
Vaskas' commitment to hard work and professionalism, traits that were already apparent during her student days at St. John's, led her to achieve Fellowship status in the Conference of Consulting Actuaries and the Academy of Actuaries in Public Practice. She was also a member of the American Society of Pension Actuaries, the American Pension Conference and the International Actuarial Association.
This loyal alumna is happy to acknowledge her long-time connection to St. John's. "I started getting back involved with the University about 10 years after I graduated," she said. "At that time Veronica Smith ['64Ed, '69GEd], for whom our Alumnae Scholarship is named, invited me to join the Alumnae Association. I was happy to do so and for a time served as President of the organization. I'm still active there even today."Vaskas continues to demonstrate her loyalty to St. John's in a variety of ways, particularly through her membership in The Loughlin Society and The McCallen Society. She believes that by giving back she is helping to give the students of today even better opportunities than she had when she was going to school on Schermerhorn Street. "I'm very grateful for the education that I got at St. John's," she said. "If it weren't for my education, I probably wouldn't have been able to take that job as an actuary and have a career that was wonderful in so many ways. I'm happy to do whatever I can to help the students in need, both the ones who are at St. John's today and those who will be coming in the future."
Acknowledged for her lifetime commitment to the Vincentian values of community service, a grateful University presented her with the Pietas Medal in 1984, and in 1991 she received the YWCA Women Achiever's Award.
Vaskas urges the University's current students to "…take advantage of everything that St. John's has to offer. Make the most of the great education available to you, and do as much volunteerism as you can. That's really the best way to support the University's mission, and when you make a difference for the people who need it the most, you're also making a difference for yourself."
If you're interested in telling your St. John’s story, please contact Kathleen Mannion, Assistant Director of Gift Planning at 718-990-5312 or [email protected].