New Students and Faculty Begin Their St. John’s Journey

September 5, 2019

Carnesecca Arena was awash with red as St. John’s University welcomed more than 3,000 first-year and transfer students from the Queens and Staten Island, NY, campuses at its annual New Student Convocation.

Held on September 3, the convocation is an academic tradition at St. John’s that brings the entire incoming class together for a special ceremony that, in a number of ways, parallels their Commencement four years from now. It serves as an opportunity for the entire University community to welcome its newest members, letting them know that their success is the highest priority.

As students filed in, they were greeted by performances from St. John’s Mixed Chorus, Voices of Victory, St. John’s Cheerleading Team, and St. John’s Dance Team, and of course, Johnny Thunderbird was on hand giving high-fives to students as they processed to their seats.

During his remarks, Conrado “Bobby” Gempesaw, Ph.D., President of St. John’s, noted that this year’s incoming class was the largest of any Catholic college or university in the United States. Students came from 37 states, the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, and the US Virgin Islands, as well as 32 countries.

Nearly 70 students represent St. John’s as student-athletes and nearly 450 students participate in the Honors Program. The incoming class features nine high school valedictorians and eight salutatorians, and 54 students take part in the prestigious Catholic Scholars Program and the Ozanam Scholars Program, through which they develop skills to promote St. John’s University’s Catholic and Vincentian mission both locally and globally.

“You have been admitted to St. John’s because of your excellent academic record and other credentials,” Dr. Gempesaw said, noting that the incoming class of 2019 is one of the most talented and accomplished classes in the history of St. John’s. “You have the potential to succeed. We believe you will succeed. And, we look forward to your success, both inside and outside of the classroom.”

Simon G. Møller, Ph.D., Provost and Vice President for Academic Affairs, echoed Dr. Gempesaw’s sentiments as he addressed students. “Our faculty, administrators, and staff are here to guide you during your journey. I encourage you to take advantage of the tremendous support that is available to you,” he stressed.

Anthony Ray Hinton, coauthor of the 2019 first-year student reading book, The Sun Does Shine: How I Found Life and Freedom on Death Row, was the featured speaker. Mr. Hinton served more than 30 years in an Alabama prison (most of it in solitary confinement) for two murders he did not commit.

Despite years of wrongful imprisonment, Mr. Hinton offered messages of forgiveness, hope, and encouragement for students as they begin their college journeys. “You are the future of this country. If ever there was a time for you to stand up, it is time for you to stand up for what it right,” he told a rapt audience.

Mr. Hinton firmly believes in young people and their capacity to effect change. “You will be asked to sit down. You should stand up. You will be asked to be quiet. You should speak.” He spoke of his strong belief that everyone has a purpose. “You have it in you to do what other generations have failed to do,” he stressed.

As she experienced the sights and sounds of the convocation, Biomedical Sciences major Bianca Leiva knew that attending St. John’s was the right decision. “I really love the campus vibe,” she observed. “I love the diversity of the students, which I think is really important for a school to have.”

Communication Arts major Michael Ruvo values the proximity of the Queens campus to New York City, but also its suburban feel. “I love that Manhattan is not right on top of you, but it is so close by.” John Commins, a Journalism major and native of Maryland, spoke about how welcomed he felt, beginning with New Student Orientation. “The orientation leaders were fantastic. I stay in touch with mine. They really made sure we got off to a great start.”

Thirty-two new faculty members were welcomed at the annual Faculty Convocation held the same day in Taffner Field House. The faculty speaker at the event was Anne Ellen Geller, Ph.D., Professor, Department of English, and Director of Writing Across Communities. Dr. Geller stressed the importance of supporting writing initiatives for students and faculty.

The convocation also featured the inaugural presentation of the Faculty Excellence in Student Engagement Award. The new award is given to faculty who enhance the undergraduate experience of St. John’s students by providing them with experiential learning opportunities and enriching their education through scholarship and service opportunities. This year’s recipients were Elizabeth N. Brondolo, Ph.D., Professor, Department of Psychology, and Diane Hardej  ’95G, ’03Ph.D., Associate Professor, Department of Pharmaceutical Sciences.

Addressing the faculty, Dr. Gempesaw said, “You have been selected because of your potential to help the University achieve its goal of preparing our students for today’s global society. We look forward to you sharing your intellectual gifts with the St. John’s community.”

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