Traveling from both near and far, St. John’s University alumni, their families, and friends returned to alma mater on May 30 through June 2 for the University’s largest alumni gathering—the fourth annual Grand Alumni Homecoming Weekend (GAHW).
“All of you—our alumni—have come home to St. John’s once again to celebrate and to reflect on the hard work you exhibited and sacrifice you made in order to earn your St. John’s degree,” remarked Conrado “Bobby” Gempesaw, Ph.D., President of St. John’s University, during the Grand Alumni Signature Celebration. “Homecoming is about remembering the past, celebrating the present, and staying in touch in the future. Our University provides education and opportunities to sons and daughters of immigrants and to those most in need. We continue to educate students who share the same hope and aspirations that you did as students.”
First held in 2016, the event’s annual attendance continues to grow; this year, nearly 1,900 registrations were received. Last year, in response to its growing popularity, GAHW expanded from two days to four, with a wide range of activities added to an already busy weekend.
Watch our Highlight Video.
A Spirited Start to the Weekend
This year’s celebration began on Thursday evening when 303 Johnnies set sail around New York Harbor aboard the Spirit of New York for the second annual Sunset Dinner Cruise. Hosted by Graduates of the Last Decade (GOLD), the Black Alumni Association, the Tobin Alumni Association, and 80s Alumni, the cruise was the high point of the weekend for many, despite scattered showers.
“I cannot think of a better way to kick off GAHW than on a boat with my fellow alumni, sailing around the greatest city in the world,” said David Puswald ’12TCB. “There were alumni who graduated in the 1950s all the way through 2019, and we all came together as one on Thursday night.”
The evening’s other scheduled event, a game between the New York Yankees and the Boston Red Sox, was postponed due to the rain. Guests who registered for this event will be contacted regarding a makeup date.
Friday started off early with “Meet the Experts,” a financial planning seminar featuring alumni panelists, and moderated by John P. Clarke ’55CBA, ’57L, Visiting Professor and Chair, Department of Law, The Peter J. Tobin College of Business.
Those in attendance enjoyed a light breakfast and learned about the importance of managing personal finances, estate planning, elder care, and more.
“Knowledge is power, especially when it comes to your finances,” said Sarah Tylko ’17Pharm.D. “Even though I am many years away from retirement, I learned so much about the financial decisions I will have to make in the future.”
Guests who embarked on Friday afternoon’s Culinary Backstreets’ Queens Food Tour had many opportunities to sample some of the borough’s hidden gourmet food treasures, as they explored dining destinations in the neighborhoods of Corona and Elmhurst.
That evening, the schools and colleges of the University each held a Distinguished Alumni Award Ceremony, where alumni and guests celebrated the work of their former classmates, networked with peers, and learned more about the continuing success of their particular school.
Later, the celebration moved to Marillac Terrace for the “After-Party” Alumni Gathering, where guests enjoyed light fare, drinks, live jazz music, as well as the opportunity to reminisce about their days on campus.
“I had amazing professors and wonderful classmates at St. John’s,” said Robert M. Ianiello, Ph.D., ’76C, ’79G, who retired from a 30-year career in basic and applied research, most recently at BASF Corporation. “I learned so much here, but most of all, I learned how important it is to give back. I would not trade my time at St. John’s for anything.”
A Saturday Filled with Fun for All Ages
GAHW featured more than 20 events this year, including Saturday morning’s St. John’s 5K Run/Walk and Kids Fun Run, the Red Storm Alumni Festival, and Brunch with the President.
Hosted by President Gempesaw, the well-attended brunch in the D’Angelo Center gave guests the opportunity to gain an in-depth understanding of the University’s core mission, enrollment trends, the challenges faced by colleges across the country, and St. John’s plans for the future. A special welcome was extended to generous donors to St. John’s who are members of the University’s Loughlin and McCallen Societies.
“The mark of an outstanding university is having excellent faculty,” said Dr. Gempesaw during his presentation. “Hiring new faculty invigorates the academic enterprise. Over the last four to five years, we hired 181 new faculty, and 64 of those—over a third—were new positions.”
John Kuhn Bleimaier ’75L, whose father, Joseph E. Bleimaier ’52CBA, also graduated from St. John’s, was eager to learn more about the University that enriched his life, and the life of his father.
“My mother used to say to me, ‘Never forget St. John’s, because everything you have is because of St. John’s,’” he recalled. “My father provided for our family because of the degree he earned here, and I have a career as a lawyer because of my degree from St. John’s School of Law.”
Nearby, the Red Storm Alumni Festival turned Taffner Field House into a carnival-like atmosphere, complete with a wide array of inflatable rides for the next generation of Johnnies, game booths with prizes, crafts, caricature artists, music, and food.
Michelle M. Pean ’97C, a psychology major who now works as a nurse at Kings County Hospital, was impressed with the current state of the Queens, NY, campus.
“I love to come back here,” she said. “The campus really is stunning. So much has changed since I was a student—but it still feels like home.”
Fans of the St. John’s Men’s Basketball program joined former Red Storm shooting guard, Felipe Lopez ’98SVC, for an intimate screening of the ESPN documentary of his life, 30 for 30: The Dominican Dream.
“For me, a foundation of giving back was born here at St. John’s,” said Mr. Lopez. “As I went from being a college player to a player in the National Basketball Association (NBA), my responsibilities grew, too. That is because I was the one and only Dominican player in the NBA at the time, and I knew I was not just representing myself—I was representing an entire country. St. John’s taught me so many lessons.”
The Faculty Club was the site of the “Brooklyn Reunion: Celebrating Lewis Avenue and Schermerhorn Street Alumni.” There, alumni from St. John’s original Brooklyn, NY, campus joined together to remember and reconnect, while offering congratulations to Louis D’Isidori, D.D.S. ’52C, for receiving his Distinguished Alumni Award from St. John’s College of Liberal Arts and Sciences.
“Not only was I the first one in my family to go to college, I was the first person in my entire neighborhood to go,” said Dr. D’Isidori, who grew up in Springfield Gardens and now lives outside of Cleveland, OH. “I am so grateful to the University, because St. John’s was the only school that offered me a scholarship large enough for me to be able to afford college.”
Saturday’s events culminated with the Grand Alumni Signature Celebration, which included Mass and the Alumni Award Ceremony inside St. Thomas More Church, and continued later that evening with a reception and dinner inside the D’Angelo Center.
“This evening’s award ceremony allows alma mater to say thank you, expressing—in a tangible way—how your generous support enhances the educational experience of every student who follows in your footsteps,” said Christian P. Vaupel, Ed.D., Vice President for Advancement and University Relations, who served as master of ceremonies for the awards presentation. “Like you, today’s students will carry the Vincentian mission of St. John’s throughout the world, touching countless lives in the process.”
This year, the following distinguished alumni (listed alphabetically) were recognized for their achievements and commitment to the University:
Later, at the dinner and reception, the Class of 1969 was welcomed into the University’s Jubilarian Society, in recognition of its 50th reunion this year. Members of the Class of ’69 donated a total of $257,142 to St. John’s University in fiscal year 2018–19.
At the dinner, alumni speaker Paul J. Evanson ’63CBA, ’10HON, Chairman and Chief Executive Officer (retired), Allegheny Energy, and Board Emeriti of the University’s Board of Trustees, reflected on the impact of his own St. John’s education and experience. “St. John’s has done more for me than I could ever give back to the University. I am the quintessential St. John’s story.”
Mr. Evanson continued, “As a first-generation college student, my parents could not afford to send me to a private college but for the generosity of an academic scholarship that I was awarded from St. John’s. I had a fabulous four-year experience here. What impacted me the most was the Vincentian spirit that permeated the University and had an impact on all of our lives and still does today.”
While Saturday’s signature celebration capped an exciting weekend at the Queens campus, Sunday was all about celebrating St. John’s Staten Island, NY, campus, and the memories created there.
After a special Alumni Mass at noon, guests enjoyed good food, great company, and a host of fun rides and activities at the Staten Island Alumni BBQ. Johnnies from different decades were united by a common thread—their love of St. John’s and the Staten Island campus.
“This is a wonderful family event,” said Thomas Joyce ’73CBA, ’77MBA. “It is a beautiful day, and it is great to see some old friends.”
Jamie Cuccurullo ’08TCB, ’09MBA had similar feelings about returning to the Staten Island campus.
“It is special to be back here,” she said. “Ten years later, St. John’s still feels like a second home.”
“St. John’s alumni are so very proud of alma mater,” said Mark A. Andrews, Director, Office of Alumni Relations. “Grand Alumni Homecoming Weekend displays that pride, with our alumni coming back to St. John’s to relive those memories, celebrate their successes, and strengthen the relationship with a very special place in their lives.”
Plans are already underway for next year’s Grand Alumni Homecoming Weekend, which is tentatively scheduled to take place from Thursday, May 28 to Sunday, May 31, 2020.
Sunset CruiseMeet the ExpertsDiabetes Update School of Education Award Ceremony After Party 5K Run/Walk and Kids Fun RunBrunch with the President Red Storm Alumni Festival Brooklyn Reunion Peter J. Tobin College of Business Award Ceremony Peter J. Tobin College of Business Lecture Q & A with Felipe Lopez Plaque Ceremony for Louis D’Isidori Grand Alumni Signature CelebrationGrand Alumni Signature Celebration