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St. John’s Changes Lives, Commencement Speakers Tell New Graduates

Commencement Ceremony 2017
Thursday, September 21, 2017

More than 4,500 new graduates became St. John’s alumni this past spring as the University conferred bachelor’s, master’s, and doctoral degrees during Commencement Exercises at its three residential campuses.

Marking its 147th academic year, St. John’s held undergraduate Commencement at Staten Island on Saturday, May 20, and on the Queens campus on Sunday, May 21. Graduate ceremonies for each of the University’s schools and colleges took place in Queens from May 15 to 19. St. John’s School of Law and the Rome, Italy, campus held Commencements in June.

Speakers representing the Catholic Church, business, education, and law addressed the new graduates. St. John’s awarded 2,084 bachelor’s and 1,754 graduate degrees at the Queens campus. On Staten Island, 186 undergraduate and 54 graduate students received degrees. St. John’s School of Law conferred 215 J.D. and 57 LL.M. degrees, and at the Rome campus, the University awarded 39 graduate degrees.

Providing the Tools and Values to Serve

His Eminence Peter Kodwo Appiah
Cardinal Turkson and JohnAnthony DiMaria

His Eminence Peter Kodwo Appiah Cardinal Turkson, Prefect of the Dicastery for Promoting Integral Human Development, addressed new graduates at the Queens campus. He was awarded an Honorary Doctor of Humane Letters degree during the Commencement ceremony. Cardinal Turkson is internationally known as a leader in the Vatican’s efforts on behalf of social justice and economic equality.

A St. John’s education, Cardinal Turkson said, instills the tools and values to render “outstanding service” to those in need. Those qualities, he added, are especially important at a time of rising homelessness around the world. “Homelessness is a phenomenon which has become global,” he said, “because a pervasive culture of indifference is gradually replacing our sense of neighborliness and belonging as members of the one human family.”

Conrado “Bobby” Gempesaw, Ph.D., President of the University, also addressed the new graduates and their families. “Here at St. John’s,” he said, “we turn hopes and aspirations into achievements and accomplishments. Today, because of your hard work and perseverance, we celebrate your achievements.”

Dr. Gempesaw highlighted notable details about the Class of 2017. He shared that more than 700 students were graduating with honors: 177 summa cum laude, 197 magna cum laude, and 329 cum laude. Nineteen students graduated with a perfect 4.0 GPA. The oldest graduate, Dr. Gempesaw noted, was 66 years old, and the youngest was 19.

Finding the Freedom to Explore

Lois T. Nicotra ’77NDC, ’83GEd
Lois T. Nicotra '77NDC,

In her Commencement remarks at the Staten Island campus, Lois T. Nicotra ’77NDC, ’83GEd, Chair/Owner of The Nicotra Group LLC, stated, “I found my purpose at St. John’s.” During her career, Ms. Nicotra evolved from teacher to businesswoman, from hotelier to philanthropist. “Through it all,” she said, “I always remembered the strong values I learned here at St. John’s.”

Hon. Janet DiFiore ’81L, Chief Judge of the Court of Appeals and the State of New York, served as the School of Law’s keynote speaker on Sunday, June 4. Expressing gratitude for the “first-rate legal education” she received at St. John’s, Judge DiFiore urged the degree recipients to remember that service lies at the heart of the legal profession.

Hon. Janet DiFiore '81L

Nicola Pedde, Ph.D. ’00G, political analyst and Director of the Institute for Global Studies, delivered Commencement remarks at the Rome campus on Sunday, June 11. “It was a privilege to be a student at St. John’s,” he said. “I learned a great deal, and, most importantly, I felt empowered to free my spirit and explore.”

Graduating seniors agreed that St. John’s changes lives. James McKeon ’17Ed, student speaker at the Staten Island campus, said the University “provided opportunities to grow as leaders and individuals.” 

Addressing fellow graduates at the Queens campus, JohnAnthony DiMaria ’17CPS echoed Cardinal Turkson’s observations regarding the need to overcome indifference. “We live in a world that tells us it’s ‘everyone for themselves,’” said JohnAnthony. “But through the opportunities St. John’s has given us, we, the Class of 2017, have become contrary to what the world tells us to be.”