Transforming Lives: President’s Dinner Raises $2.1 Million for Student Scholarships

December 7, 2015

They were the ones being honored: the generous, dedicated recipients of St. John’s Spirit of Service Awards. Yet as they stepped up to the lectern during the presentation at the 18th Annual President’s Dinner—which raised $2.1 million on October 29 to benefit students—each of those honorees chose to pay tribute to the University itself.

Lesley H. Collins ’83SVC received the award with her husband, William L. Collins ’76C, ’12HON, chief executive officer, Brencourt Capital Management. The couple has given generously to their alma mater and other causes as well. Yet Lesley used the occasion to thank St. John’s, and especially individuals she met there, notably the late Pamela Shea-Byrnes, D.Min. ’86SVC, ’90G, who was vice president for university ministry and university events. “Her commitment,” she said, “was a tremendous inspiration.”

Anissa Mitrano (’89SVC, ’91Ed) and James J. Shannon ’87CBA, senior partner and chief operating officer, Indus Capital Partners, LLC, also testified to the role the University has played in their lives. “On this night,” said James, “we celebrate St. John’s amongst friends . . . [and] we celebrate all of our alumni, our students, our faculty, and administration.”

Finally, Rev. Pedro Pablo Opeka, C.M., a Vincentian priest who helps Madagascar’s needy citizens as founder of the Akamasoa Association, cited the title of the award—“Spirit of Service”—as a call to action for all those who embrace the values of St. Vincent de Paul. “Only by serving people,” he said, “will we be able to change our lives and to create a better future.”

These notable individuals pointed to a theme repeated throughout the course of this year’s President’s Dinner—that St. John’s University teaches students not only to succeed as leaders in their careers and communities, but as generous citizens who make a positive difference in the world. Joseph O’Connor ’82CBA, who with his wife Antoinette (’82CBA) cochaired the dinner, attributed it to the “Vincentian charism, which is always evolving, always deepening.”

The 860 alumni and friends who joined students, faculty, and administrators at the Waldorf Astoria for this year’s dinner clearly agreed. Thanks to their support, the dinner once again generated vital funds for student scholarships. In fact, since the dinner’s establishment in 1998, it has generated more than $28 million, which has strengthened the University’s General Scholarship Fund.

“I cannot thank you enough for your commitment to St. John’s,” said Conrado “Bobby” Gempesaw, Ph.D., president, once again serving as host of the event. Your generosity, he observed, is providing vital financial resources for the University’s students—“the reason why we are all here.”

Many of St. John’s current students were in attendance at the dinner, offering friends and alumni tangible examples of those who benefit from their generosity. “These students are our future,” noted Teresa A. Mason ’79SVC, managing partner for client development at BahnMulter LLP and a member of the University’s Board of Trustees. “When those of us who have benefited from our St. John’s education come back to offer our support, it’s the students who benefit. I find it very moving to be able to give back in this way.”

“As soon as the students walk into the room, we’re reminded of how great St. John’s was, is, and will continue to be,” said Suzanne Halpin ’78SVC, ’86MBA, ’13HON, executive vice president of Rubenstein Communications, Inc., and a St. John’s board member. “They’re among the reasons I would encourage every graduate to support the President’s Dinner—and the University, in every way we can.”

Surveying the room, Rev. John Kettelberger, C.M., University Chaplain, explained the significance of the dinner in this way. “Transforming lives,” he said. “Through our Vincentian mission, we aim to help those in need, whatever the need might be, much as Fr. Opeka has done in Madagascar. And as supporters of St. John’s, we help our students build new lives as the professionals and leaders they will become.”