A resilient and hopeful spirit permeated the Virtual Recognition Ceremonies held online by St. John’s University to celebrate the Class of 2020. While not meant to replace the Commencement ceremonies that are anticipated to be held at a later date, these online events, held on May 30 and 31, gave the University community an opportunity to recognize undergraduate and graduate students for earning the degrees for which they worked so diligently.
The Undergraduate Virtual Recognition Ceremony was held on May 31. Virtual Graduate Recognition Ceremonies were held on May 30 for The Lesley H. and William L. Collins College of Professional Studies, The School of Education, and St. John’s College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, and on May 31 for the College of Pharmacy and Health Sciences, The Peter J. Tobin College of Business, and the School of Law.
“At St. John’s, we turn hopes and aspirations into achievements and accomplishments,” said Conrado “Bobby” Gempesaw, Ph.D., President of St. John’s, in his remarks during the undergraduate ceremony, which featured the conferral of more than 2,700 degrees.
“Through your hard work and perseverance, you have succeeded in achieving your goal of obtaining a St. John’s degree that will hopefully serve as the foundation of success in the future.”
The Class of 2020 enjoyed great academic achievement, with 320 students graduating summa cum laude, 395 graduating magna cum laude, and more than 500 graduating cum laude. Twenty-four students achieved a perfect 4.0 grade point average. Two St. John’s graduates were selected as Fulbright finalists, and three as Jeannette K. Watson Fellows. Six graduates were selected as Clare Boothe Luce Scholars and 12 were Ronald E. McNair Scholars. The University recognized 30 graduates as Catholic Scholars, and 17 as Ozanam Scholars.
Known for its diverse student body, St. John’s University’s Class of 2020 included more than 160 international students whose degrees were conferred at the online weekend ceremonies. Additionally, more than 70 graduates were student-athletes.
“Life is unpredictable—sometimes too unpredictable,” observed Simon G. Møller, Ph.D., Provost and Vice President for Academic Affairs. “We have witnessed how our world can be disrupted so quickly, but, importantly, we have realized that we are one global community that remains strong together.”
Dr. Møller applauded graduates for adjusting to online learning so quickly and doing so without the comforts they normally enjoy, such as in-person interaction with their friends and professors. “Your possibilities are indeed endless, and you have shown that nothing is impossible.”
Kathryn T. Hutchinson, Ph.D. ’92G, Vice President for the Division of Student Affairs, served as Master of Ceremonies for the undergraduate event, which recognized the achievements of graduates from the Queens, Staten Island, and Manhattan, NY, campuses. “We are incredibly proud of your commitment, resilience, service, and spirit,” she said.
“As you officially become part of the family of 190,000 alumni of this great University, stay connected and support one another.”
In his message to the Class of 2020, Mike Anderson, Head Coach of the St. John’s Men’s Basketball team, noted that challenges represent opportunities for growth. He told graduates of the adversity he faced in his own life when he made the decision to change careers and become a basketball coach. “I kept my vision and goals in front of me. I took every opportunity. I did more than what was required. I took responsibility for my life, and what it was to become.”
He added, “The journey you have been on has prepared you for moments like this, but you have to be confident in what you learned. You have to have faith—and that winning mentality.”
There were more than 10,000 unique page views for the online event, with nearly 18,000 total views.
In lieu of the traditional reading of names, a slideshow was available immediately following the ceremony; graduates and their families were able to view and download slides with their name, degree, message, and photo. Students and their families were also invited to attend an Instagram Live party hosted by St. John’s alumnus DJ Zeke, also known as Ezekiel O. Akinyemi ’08TCB.
For Management major Deven Rodriguez, graduating during a pandemic was an experience filled with many emotions. “However, I have learned one thing: what we most need in times of crisis are leaders.” Deven is a Catholic Scholar, a member of the President’s Society, the highest honor society of St. John’s, and last fall was selected as one of the US Army Cadet Command’s Top 10 Army ROTC Cadets for its annual national order-of-merit list, ranking third.
“In these unprecedented times, my Vincentian spirit tells me that I have to step up and lead,” he said.
“The word that I keep coming back to when I think about graduating during a global pandemic is resilience, and the Frida Kahlo quote, ‘At the end of the day we can endure much more than we think we can,’” observed Evelyn T. Austin, who earned her degree in Public Administration and Public Service. Evelyn is a Jeannette K. Watson Fellow and a member of the President’s Society.
“The bad things that happen to us are another opportunity for us to prove to ourselves and others how strong we really are,” she said. “Through a global pandemic and the year not ending as we had hoped it might, the Class of 2020 has shown everyone that, despite the odds, we are still rising to the challenge and embracing the new world waiting for us.”