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New Beginnings Celebrated at St. John’s as New Students and Faculty Attend Convocations

Wednesday, September 5, 2018

In an atmosphere of excited anticipation at the official start of a new academic year, St. John’s University welcomed more than 3,100 first-year and transfer students from the Queens and Staten Island campuses during its annual New Student Convocation held on September 4 in Carnesecca Arena.

During his welcoming remarks, Conrado “Bobby” Gempesaw, Ph.D., remarked that this year’s incoming class was the largest of any Catholic college or university in the nation. Students hail from 37 states, the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, and the US Virgin Islands.

This class includes 13 high school valedictorians and eight salutatorians, and 60 students have been selected to take part in the prestigious Catholic Scholars program and the Ozanam Scholars program, through which students develop skills to serve as faith leaders and social justice advocates in their communities. More than 100 students will represent St. John’s as student-athletes, and more than
320 will participate in the Honors Program.

Dr. Gempesaw told students that St. John’s has the three hallmarks of a great University: a beautiful campus with high-quality facilities to enhance the learning environment; outstanding faculty, administrators, and staff; and outstanding students. “Develop a passion and commitment to learn more, be engaged, and dedicate yourself to helping others whenever you have the opportunity,” Dr. Gempesaw said.

In his address, Simon G. Møller, Ph.D., Interim Provost and Vice President for Academic Affairs, and Professor, Biological Sciences, described the path of personal and professional growth that students were about to experience.

“Among our many wishes for your coming years at St. John’s is that you give this journey your full attention. Your college years will go by very quickly. Make every minute, including the first minute, count to the fullest extent possible.” —Simon G. Møller, Ph.D.

The Convocation’s featured speaker was Dan-el Padilla Peralta, Ph.D., Assistant Professor, Classics, Princeton University, and author of the book, Undocumented: A Dominican Boy’s Odyssey from a Homeless Shelter to the Ivy League. The book traces his journey as an undocumented immigrant living in New York City, where despite experiencing homelessness and the many challenges of abject poverty, he overcame these obstacles to achieve academic success. Rising above his circumstances, he would eventually attend Princeton University, the University of Oxford, and Stanford University, where he earned his doctoral degree in Classics.

During his address to a rapt audience, he spoke of his personal despair at the increase in misperceptions and mistreatment of some members of the immigrant community. “It is a sadness of seeing one’s community under steady and unremitting assault,” Dr. Padilla Peralta observed. He encouraged students to use their education in ways that acknowledge a shared social responsibility toward the entire immigrant population.

As she took in the sights and sounds of the Convocation, which included booming music and a performance by the St. John’s Dance Team, Criminal Justice major Danielle Falci remarked on how welcomed she felt at the University. “Everything I’ve experienced, from orientation in the summer to today, has really made an impact. Of all the schools I considered, St. John’s made me feel the most at home.”

The University’s annual Faculty Convocation was held later that day at Taffner Field House. This academic year, 43 new faculty members joined the University, many of whom come from historically underrepresented groups.

During his remarks, Dr. Gempesaw said, “This afternoon, we recognize the importance of our faculty, who have dedicated so much of their lives to educating our students, and welcome new faculty members, who will continue in that tradition.”

Yvonne Pratt-Johnson, Ed.D., Interim Dean, The School of Education, and Professor, Department of Education Specialties, was the faculty speaker at this year’s Convocation. Dr. Pratt-Johnson and colleague Bonnie J. Johnson, Ph.D., Professor, Curriculum and Instruction, recently edited the book, Inequalities in the Early Years, which examines poverty’s effects on children and suggests workable solutions for decreasing childhood disparities through the formal education process.

Colleagues across 10 disciplines contributed essays about the challenges of poverty to the book, and Dr. Gempesaw wrote its foreword. “Not only does the book carry important messages about society, it tells a great deal about the culture of St. John’s—where scholars are making significant contributions to knowledge, teaching, and service.”