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President's Dinner Spotlights Support for Student Scholarships

Thursday, October 31, 2013

Acknowledged as St. John’s premier fundraising initiative, the 16th Annual President’s Dinner raised more than $2 million for scholarships to benefit the University’s most deserving students. The event attracted 1,247 guests and was again held in the traditional venue of the Grand Ballroom of The Waldorf Astoria in New York.

John P. Clarke ’55CBA, ’57L - A&E Networks Biography Video
Robert Kalenka ’84CBA, ’91MBA - A&E Networks Biography Video
Peggy Montgoris ’68Ed and Bill Montgoris ’67CBA, ’88HON - A&E Networks Biography Video

At every President’s Dinner, the Spirit of Service Award is presented to exceptional individuals who have made the Vincentian commitment of service to those in need a defining factor in their lives. This year’s honorees were especially unique, since each is a St. John’s alumnus or alumna. They included John P. Clarke ’55CBA, ’57L, Professor, St. John’s University; Robert Kalenka ’84CBA, ’91MBA, Corporate Vice President, Broadridge, and Peggy (’68Ed) and Bill Montgoris ’67CBA, ’88HON.

“St. John’s has always been about making a difference, and our honorees have taken that message to heart,” remarked St. John’s University President Rev. Joseph L. Levesque, C.M., S.T.D. “They have all gone into the world to lead successful lives, and have never lost sight of what it means to be a member of the St. John’s family. They are true St. John’s success stories, and without a doubt, they are an example to us all.”

Co-Chairperson William L. Collins ’76C noted that the President’s Dinner is a reflection of the University’s mission in action. He reminded the guests that their support will make a lasting difference for countless students who would otherwise be unable to experience the uniqueness of all that St. John’s has to offer.

“St. John’s is about giving young people a chance,” he said, “and your support of the President’s Dinner makes you a partner in that commitment. Current and future St. John’s students will directly benefit from your generosity, and I thank you for helping them to realize their dream of a quality, service-oriented education that they can only get at St. John’s.”

As loyal St. John’s alumni, each Spirit of Service Award honoree has a profound respect for the Vincentian philosophy of making a difference for others.

One of St. John’s most popular and esteemed professors, John Clarke reflected on what it was like to be a member of the St. John’s family for more than six decades. During that time he witnessed the University’s transformation from a local commuter school to an international university with a worldwide reputation for excellence. He is pleased that in spite of the many changes, St. John’s has remained true to its mission of service.

“During my many years at St. John’s I’ve had the good fortune to work with wonderful people,” he said, “especially the students who inspire me every day to do a little more and to do it better. The Vincentian charism made it possible for people like me to get a good education without the finances available to accomplish it. St. John’s is still doing that great work today. In spite of our growth and success we still work with that same kind of student. I’m honored to receive this wonderful award and will cherish it always.”

When Robert Kalenka looks back at what he took from his years at St. John’s, he recalls not only the superior education he received but also the values that will always be a part of his life. For him, the alumni are the best examples of what makes the University different from all others.

“St. John’s puts out a great product,” said Kalenka, “and the alumni whom we’re honoring tonight really bring that home. St. John’s doesn’t simply create successful alumni in a professional sense. It also creates good, decent human beings who are willing to step outside of themselves to do good for others. I love the University, and to be recognized by St. John’s has a special meaning in my heart.

For Bill and Peggy Montgoris, the event brought back memories of their days as students on the University’s Schermerhorn Street campus in downtown Brooklyn. They recalled how their parents struggled financially so that their children could enjoy the benefits of a college education, and expressed their appreciation to the donors whose generosity will make it easier for current and future St. John’s students to enjoy a similar experience.

“While it’s true that all of us on this stage have chosen to give of our time, our efforts and our financial resources to try and make the world a better place, so have you,” noted Bill. “Tonight, over 1,200 of you have come together and contributed $2 million to help St. John’s provide a quality education and a strong value system for these young adults who will hopefully graduate without crushing debt and become successful members of society. You came here ostensibly to honor us, but the reality is that we are here to honor you and thank you for your generosity and caring.”

“St. John’s donors are very special people,” agreed Peggy, “and they do it out of sheer love for the University. If it weren’t for the people who helped to support St. John’s back when Bill and I were students, neither of us would be where we are today. We remember what it was like to struggle for tuition, and we’re happy that we can do our share to help ease that struggle for others.”

For many alumni, supporting the President’s Dinner is a way to acknowledge the continuing importance of the University in their lives. It also offers them an opportunity to ease the financial burden of the current and future students who hope to enjoy the same St. John’s experience that they did.

“The fact that St. John’s has a history of combining academic excellence with a commitment to the service of others has always resonated within me,” said Richard Morris ’89CBA. “The education of students from financially burdened families has always been a big part of the St. John’s community, and that’s something I believe in. I’m happy to support the President’s Dinner, because I know that I’m doing something that has a definite impact for current and future students.”

Being a part of the President’s Dinner comes natural to Anissa Shannon ’91Ed. She has a strong attachment to the University for a variety of reasons, and believes in giving back in ways that will directly benefit young people who she hopes will one day repeat the cycle and do the same for others.

“My husband and I met at St. John’s,” she said, “and being here tonight is a reflection of the foundation of who we are today. I got my career started at St. John’s, made lifelong friends here and I believe in everything that the University stands for. It gives me a great feeling to know that I’m doing something to help students who might not be able to make it on their own. And I know that some of them will pass on that generosity to others when they have the means to do so.”

Jordan Bouchard, a Senior in St. John’s College of Liberal Arts and Sciences and member of The President’s Society, was excited to be a part of such a premier event. She has a high regard for the donors who share their resources to support the University, and is greatly impressed that so many alumni have never lost their willingness to reach out to others.

“The alumni who are here tonight are special people for so many reasons,” she remarked. “They support the education of students who might otherwise not be here, but they also live the University’s mission of service in a real way. That’s an inspiration for me. I plan to take a year off after I graduate in May to perform service in a homeless shelter. Our alumni know how important it is to serve, and I can’t wait to be just like them.”