The St. John’s University community welcomed new students and faculty to a campus bustling with in-person activity and a sense of gratitude that everyone can finally congregate together. The annual New Student Convocation was held on August 31 in Carnesecca Arena, giving the community’s newest members an upbeat welcome from deans, faculty, fellow students, and, presiding over his first such Convocation at St. John’s, Rev. Brian J. Shanley, O.P., President of St. John’s.
“Like you, I’m a newbie,” Fr. Shanley told the audience. “I’ve been learning every day since I started on February 1. One of the things you and I have in common as beginners at St. John’s is that we ask a lot of questions.”
Fr. Shanley encouraged students to keep asking questions throughout their time at the University “because that lies at the heart of learning.” He added that one of the Vincentian virtues of St. John’s is humility “and knowing what we don’t know.”
He told students they need to be humble enough to rely on their professors when they need help. “This is an important virtue for students.” Humility, he explained, involves not being defensive about what you think you know, but being open to changing your mind.
Simon G. Møller, Ph.D., Provost and Vice President for Academic Affairs, University Distinguished Professor, and Provost Endowed Chair, told students, “Tomorrow, your lives will change forever as you become an integral part of this extraordinary University community.
“You will realize from the very first moment of your very first class that you are part of something greater than any individual,” he continued. “You will realize that you are part of an amazing University, a University that is proud of its rich academic tradition, a University that is committed to discovering new ways to serve contemporary society, a University with a crystal clear and bright vision for the future.”
Olympian fencer Daryl Homer ’13CPS, a recent participant in the Tokyo Summer Olympic Games, served as keynote speaker. As a member of the Red Storm Fencing Team, he won multiple National Collegiate Athletic Association Championships in the saber category and was recognized as one of the finest fencers in the United States. In 2016, he claimed a silver medal at the Rio Summer Olympic Games.
Mr. Homer noted that college went by much faster than he expected and encouraged students to be present in the moment and savor the experience. “St. John’s is a school that is in the mecca of so many things,” he observed. “There’s something really powerful about experiencing New York City through the eyes of people who live here. I loved the proximity to the city, the restaurants, and the access to internships and networking opportunities.”
He added, “We all come to college with an idea of who we are and what we think about ourselves—I’m here to tell you that you’ll probably be challenged in that, especially at a University like this. There is a lot of diversity of cultures and experiences. It’s a real melting pot, so I encourage you to really dive in.”
Criminal Justice major Veronica Bilinski, a native of Putnam County, NY, came to St. John’s for the wealth of opportunities she discovered when she first visited. “The city is a stone’s throw away, but I feel like we’re in a garden spot right here. I’ve been so welcomed, and I don’t feel overwhelmed.”
Angelina Rappa, also a Criminal Justice major and native of Putnam County (although she and Veronica first met at St. John’s), enjoys New York City and eventually hopes to attend the School of Law. “We’ve become acquainted with so many great things already, and classes haven’t even started.”
Education major Andrew Hanlon of Merrick, NY, noted that his mother is a proud alumna of St. John’s. He decided to stay close to home, making St. John’s the natural choice. “I love the urban setting and the diversity—and I’m a big fan of Division I sports,” he enthusiastically said.
On the same day, Fr. Shanley also presided over his first Faculty Convocation, which was held in Taffner Field House. “I think all of us are here because a teacher really cared about us. They turned our lives around. They challenged us, and they made us think in a new way.” He added that teaching is “an extraordinary vocation.”
This year’s faculty speaker, Natalie P. Byfield, Ph.D., Founding Director of the University’s Critical Race and Ethnic Studies Institute and Professor in the Department of Sociology and Anthropology, said, “What I find here are students and colleagues among the faculty, administration, and staff who deeply embrace the University’s Catholic and Vincentian mission to do something about social injustice and develop solutions for injustice that encompass human dignity, solidarity, and participation, among other aspects of Catholic social teaching.”