During the week of May 17–23, all of the Schools and Colleges at St. John’s University, with the exception of the School of Law, held Virtual Commencement and Degree Conferral Ceremonies honoring the achievements of the Class of 2021. The ceremonies honored graduate and undergraduate students from the Queens, Staten Island, and Manhattan, NY, campuses. More than 4,200 graduate and undergraduate degrees were conferred at the ceremonies.
In-person ceremonies will be held in July, but these events served as an opportunity to celebrate graduates at the time of year Commencement is traditionally held. The School of Law will hold Commencement ceremonies on June 6. The Virtual Commencement and Degree Conferral Ceremonies fulfills the traditional academic protocols that, upon completion of required academic coursework, make individuals official college graduates.
Addressing graduates and their families. Rev. Brian J. Shanley, O.P., President of St. John’s, said, “We all wish the pandemic didn’t happen in our time, but it did, and we had to decide what to do with the difficult time given to us. You chose to finish your education and get your degree from St. John’s University. That accomplishment was not easy.”
Fr. Shanley noted that students were forced to navigate multiple modes of instruction, technological challenges, economic stress, anxiety, isolation, and uncertainty. “I admire you for what you’ve accomplished.”
He added that graduates learned a valuable lesson about themselves that bodes well for their future: they have grit. “It is the mark of high achievers, and it lies within you.”
Fr. Shanley stressed that students were graduating from St. John’s during a critical moment in its history: the 150th anniversary of the institution. “Just as individuals can develop grit over time, so can institutions. St. John’s history is marked by difficult periods. When it persevered through wars, epidemics, economic downturns, 9/11, and all of the other hardships our city and our country have known, the passion for the underlying Catholic and Vincentian mission to educate first-generation students has been faithfully served and strengthened throughout our history.”
This year’s Commencement speaker was Frank A. D’Amelio ’83MBA, Chief Financial Officer and Executive Vice President, Global Supply, at Pfizer Inc. A graduate of the University’s Staten Island campus, Mr. D’Amelio noted he chose wisely in coming to St. John’s.
“You too have chosen wisely,” he said. “When you chose your program four years ago, never would you have imagined a pandemic causing a global shutdown, remote learning, or a virtual Commencement.”
He added, “Your last year and a half of school was marked by the most adverse global challenge we’ve experienced in nearly a century, and yet here you are. You are resilient. You have not only survived, you have succeeded and thrived. This was due in large part to St. John’s 150 years of steadfast faithfulness to its mission: committed to academic excellence and the pursuit of wisdom, providing students the skills to analyze and articulate clearly what is, but perhaps even more importantly, fostering the values to realize what might be.”
Mr. D’Amelio noted that last year the mandate from Pfizer’s leadership team was to develop a vaccine that would help end the pandemic. “They were charged with thinking big and shaking off the constraints of existing processes to deliver a life-saving vaccine in record time.” He added that by collectively imagining and realizing what might be, they made possible what was heretofore impossible.
“Today I ask you to celebrate your accomplishments and your ability to overcome never-dreamed-of-before hurdles. But tomorrow, I ask you to eagerly look to the future, and think of what might be.”
He added, “I assure you that when I graduated from St. John’s, I never dreamed I would have the opportunity to battle a global pandemic and hopefully change the world. So, remember, you have it in your power to make a real difference in the course of human history.”
Student speakers for the undergraduate ceremonies were Jacqueline Lepore, St. John’s College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, Staten Island Campus, and Harrison B. Harvey, The Peter J. Tobin College of Business, Queens campus.
“The past year completely redefined our outlook,” Jacqueline, an English major, observed. “Life can change in just a moment. Since our start, the Class of 2021 inspired that change. We won’t wait for what might be. We strive for what will be.”
Harrison, a Finance major, noted that St. John’s has cultivated a culture of community, care, and confidence, where faculty and administration push students to succeed and achieve their potential. “Each and every one of you has impacted St. John’s in your own unique way.”