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Change World Despite Odds, Speakers Tell Graduates at SJU’s 144th Commencement Exercises

Home page photo: Queens Commencement speaker Hugh Evans.
Monday, May 19, 2014

No one is too young to make the world better, a goal worth pursuing even amid the most formidable odds, Hugh Evans, CEO of the Global Poverty Project, told students on May 18 at St. John's University’s 144th Commencement Exercises, where more than 2,200 undergraduate degrees were conferred.

Evans, a noted humanitarian, delivered the undergraduate address at the University’s Queens, NY, campus. Speaking at the Graduate Commencement later that day, Simon Geir Møller, Ph.D., vice provost for graduate education and research, urged master’s and doctoral degree recipients to improve the world through a commitment to excellence in scholarship. Over 1,200 graduate degrees were conferred at the ceremony.

On May 17, more than 200 students received degrees at the Commencement Exercises on SJU’s Staten Island, NY, campus. Speaker David Ushery, news anchor at WNBC-TV, encouraged graduates to change the world "one corner at a time" while practicing the compassion espoused by St. Vincent de Paul, the 17th-century priest whose work guides the University’s mission.

Rev. Joseph L. Levesque, C.M., president of St. John’s, reflected on the day’s significance. "While Commencement Exercises are meant to celebrate the successful end to your St. John’s education, 'commencement' also means 'beginning,'" he noted. "Today, we mark a new beginning for all of you. This is the day our graduates officially transition from students to alumni, joining a group of some 170,000 strong whose presence in the metropolitan area and beyond will serve as support, provide opportunities, and encourage you to fulfill your goals."

Evans, who received an honorary Doctor of Laws degree, evoked the University’s mission in his address. "I know that one of the key values of St. John's is compassion and zeal for service," he said.  "Learn how you, the Class of 2014, both individually and collectively, can make a difference in our world. When you find out what you believe in, I urge you to put everything on the line to achieve your higher goal."

At Staten Island, Ushery was awarded an honorary Doctor of Letters degree. He urged students to possess fortitude and faith for the journey ahead. "You do not want to look back and say insecurity kept you from pursuing your passion,” he stressed. “You need to have faith in yourself. Hold on to it if you have it, find it if you don't.” He added, "If you live a life with love in your heart, it will come back to you in ways you could never imagine."

Also at the Queens exercises, the University posthumously awarded its Medal of Honor to the late Pamela Shea-Byrnes, D.Min. ’86SVC, ’90G, vice president of university ministry and university events. The medal—the highest honor the University can confer upon a graduate—was bestowed for her many years of service and lifelong commitment to St. John’s Vincentian mission.

In addition, three graduating seniors received the Outstanding Student Achievement Award for students whose leadership has contributed greatly to extracurricular life: Ariyo Ojagbamila ’14C and Colby Mrowka ’14CPS, representing the Queens campus; and Alex Johnson ’14TCB, from the Staten Island campus.

During and after the exercises, graduating students reflected on the impact their education has had on their lives. "St. John's has contributed to my formation in countless ways, and I cannot imagine who I would be without it," said Kathryn Busch ’14C. “I've taken more from SJU than I will be able to give back, so I hope to pay it forward and spread the support, wisdom, and love I’ve  received." Alice Wong ’14Ed observed, “My experience at St. John’s has been an incredible blessing. It’s helped shape me into a better Christian, citizen, and leader.”