Giving back and giving thanks were the themes of the Endowed Scholarship Donor Brunch as St. John’s University welcomed benefactors and scholarship recipients to a special reception held in the D’Angelo Center on the Queens, NY, campus on April 7.
Hosted by Conrado “Bobby” Gempesaw, Ph.D., President of St. John’s, and his wife, Clavel Albay Gempesaw, Ph.D., the event brought together generous individuals whose financial support for St. John’s allows its most deserving students to realize their educational dream. Prior to the brunch, a special Mass was held in St. Thomas More Church, celebrated by Rev. Bernard M. Tracey, C.M., Executive Vice President for Mission.
A recurring theme Dr. Gempesaw encounters during his travels throughout the country is that of alumni describing the transformative power of a St. John’s education. “Today, we honor a group of scholarship donors who sustain this world of opportunity that our founders started, and help sustain the University’s mission of transforming lives,” Dr. Gempesaw said.
Ensuring student success has a special meaning at St. John’s, stressed Simon G. Møller, Ph.D., Interim Provost and Vice President for Academic Affairs. “It means ensuring student success for all 21,346 of our students. It means providing an excellent and affordable education for all of our students, especially those lacking economic, physical, and social advantages.”
“St. John’s has been—and always will be—a place for those most in need to receive quality and affordable higher education,” said Christian P. Vaupel, Ed.D., Vice President for Advancement and University Relations.
“The University’s founding mission is to be a place of academic excellence and opportunity for many first-generation college students. Today, our student body is one of the most diverse in the city, state, and country.”
More than 92 percent of St. John’s undergraduate students received more than $232 million in institutional aid during the past academic year, Dr. Vaupel noted, adding that more than a third of the University’s annual operating budget is dedicated to student financial aid.
“We know that scholarship support can make the difference between a student attending St. John’s or another institution,” he said, expressing gratitude to benefactors for providing gifts which help increase the endowment for student scholarships. “Your financial support allows the University to maintain its competitive edge and continue to attract and retain talented and motivated students from all backgrounds.”
Those gathered heard from Government and Politics major Daniel Sparrow, a scholarship recipient who thanked those who helped make his St. John’s education possible. A member of the President’s Society, the highest honor society for St. John’s University students, Daniel noted that his mother is a St. John’s alumna, as well as a former President’s Society member. “If not for the generous support of benefactors like all of you, I would not be able to continue my family’s legacy.”
Daniel is a recipient of the Dr. Frank Le Veness Scholarship, named for Frank Le Veness, Ph.D., Professor, Government and Politics, who is also a teacher of Daniel’s. “I have been nurtured inside the classroom by Dr. Le Veness—and I would not even be inside that classroom without the financial support of the Dr. Frank Le Veness Endowed Scholarship,” he observed.
Donor Eileen A. Tarantino ’80CBA, Board Member, St. John’s University Institute for Catholic Schools, also addressed the gathering about the importance of endowing scholarships for worthy students. She and husband, Joseph A. Tarantino ’80CBA, who serves on the University’s Board of Trustees, endow the Eileen and Joseph Tarantino Partners for Student Success Scholarship Fund in The Peter J. Tobin College of Business. The parents of three children, the Tarantinos know the struggles associated with providing them with a quality, Catholic education.
“To me, the greatest gift a parent can give a child is an education. It is the key to unlocking so many doors,” she stressed.
“The education that we received here at St. John’s is what got us started on the path to where we are today. It helped us to achieve success. We are so thankful to St. John’s, and to God, for that. After our three children finished their education, we agreed—it was time to give back.”
Mrs. Tarantino explained, “When I think about the person who receives our scholarship, I try to envision how it might change their situation: perhaps it means the difference between attending St. John’s University over a community college, or not going to college at all. Or, by receiving the scholarship, the student needs to work one part-time job instead of two, so they can concentrate on their studies, which then leads to better grades and might lead to an internship or a full-time position down the road.”
On hand for the event was benefactor and Board of Trustee Emerita Teresa A. Mason, Esq. ’79SVC, ’02HON, who created the Mamie Mason Endowed Scholarship Fund, in honor of her mother, who was also in attendance. “The University was incredibly generous to me as a student,” Ms. Mason observed. “Had that not occurred, I could not have attended St. John’s.”
As a way to give back, Ms. Mason created a scholarship in her mother’s name. Mrs. Mason worked as a cleaner at St. John’s during the late 1950s. “Who would have thought that her daughter would become so involved in the University?” Ms. Mason asked. “It is like everything came full circle.” Her mother added, “I am really glad we can help the students.”
“It is only right that St. John’s holds events like these,” said Joshua Lahijani ’19L, a recipient of the Arthur B. Carton, Esq. Scholarship. “I could not attend St. John’s without a scholarship, and today, we, as students, can put faces to the names of the generous individuals who made our dreams a reality. Hopefully, when I am successful, I can do the same for the generation that follows. It is about creating a cycle of giving and paying it forward.”
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