A sense of gratitude permeated the air at St. John’s University’s 24th Annual President’s Dinner: gratitude for the determination and resilience of the entire St. John’s community during a pandemic, for the generosity of donors who support the University’s mission of service, and for the ability to gather in person to celebrate the accomplishments of the evening’s honorees.
Held on Friday, October 29, in the Grand Ballroom of the New York Hilton Midtown, this was the first in-person President’s Dinner since 2019. Serving as the University’s premier fundraising event of the year, the dinner saw more than $3.1 million raised—including over $235,000 at the dinner itself—that will directly benefit the University’s most deserving students. More than 600 preregistered guests attended the event.
The ballroom, adorned in St. John’s red and white, served as a backdrop for the first dinner hosted by Rev. Brian J. Shanley, O.P., President of St. John’s. “The fact that we’re here tonight—having the time that we’re having, in the world in which we’re living—is a little bit of a miracle,” he observed, clearly moved by the experience. “And it’s something that we cannot take for granted.”
The event also honors the men and women who best exemplify the University’s Vincentian mission, presenting them with the Spirit of Service Award. These individuals serve as role models as they incorporate these values into their lives in a meaningful way. It is also a wonderful opportunity for students to interact with the highest caliber of St. John’s graduates: men and women who have risen to the top of their professions while never forgetting their humble roots.
Fr. Shanley said the evening’s honorees channeled the spirit of St. John’s in their lives and stressed the importance of recognizing their achievements. “As a St. John’s community, we need to lift up the grace-filled good that is in our midst and that is in the people who are here. It helps us to affirm, clarify, and celebrate the central values of St. John’s.”
This year’s honorees were
Thomas J. Cox ’82CBA
Chief Executive Officer, OnPoint Group, LLC
Thomas J. Donohue ’63C, ’85HON
Advisor and Former Chief Executive Officer, US Chamber of Commerce
Michael Roemer ’84CBA
Executive Vice President, Chief Risk Officer, Discover Financial Services
Paul C. Wirth ’79CBA
Retired Deputy Chief Financial Officer, Morgan Stanley
James Shannon ’87CBA and his wife, Anissa ’89SVC, ’91Ed, served as Cochairs for the dinner. Mr. Shannon said of the honorees, “They have transformed that spirit into actions that have made a real difference for real people and have done so without fanfare and without expectation of recompense.”
Rahel Solomon ’10TCB, CNBC, Correspondent/Reporter, served as the evening’s Master of Ceremonies. She noted this is an exciting time for New York City and St. John’s “as we all emerge from and adjust to living and learning during a global pandemic. But true to the proud century-and-a-half-old history of St. John’s, we have persisted, for we remain faithful to the mission. This is not our first pandemic. We do not just survive and advance. Rather, we thrive because of who we are and what we have been doing uninterrupted since 1870.”
Among the dignitaries in attendance were the Very Rev. Stephen M. Grozio, C.M., Provincial Superior of the Eastern Province of the Congregation of the Mission and Provincial Vice Chair of the University’s Board of Trustees; Most Reverend Richard Garth Henning, Auxiliary Bishop of the Diocese of Rockville Centre, NY; and William J. Janetschek ’84CBA, ’17HON, Chair of the University’s Board of Trustees.
“Like so many other St. John’s alumni, I am proud that I am a first-generation college graduate,” Mr. Cox noted, adding that his education was not only affordable but a great boon to his career. “Attending St. John’s for four of my 16 years of Catholic education provided a strong foundation for both me and my family.” Mr. Cox said that, besides proposing to his wife, attending St. John’s was the best decision he ever made in his life.
Mr. Donohue recalled that everything that was good in his life flowed from St. John’s, especially meeting his late wife, Liz, to whom he was married for 54 years. “The opportunity to attend St. John’s was a perfect fit for me. It was a commuter school and easier to afford, which allowed me great flexibility to work a few jobs at the same time and still have a social life—thanks to a friend in the registrar’s office who helped me adjust my schedule as necessary,” he joked.
“For more than 150 years, St. John’s has been committed to a high-quality education for people regardless of their socioeconomic backgrounds, their ethnicity, their race, or their religious beliefs,” Mr. Roemer stressed. “St. John’s continues to fulfill that important role in the New York metropolitan community,” he said, adding that he also received scholarship assistance as a student.
Mr. Roemer added, “St. John’s taught me about respect, perseverance, resilience, and maybe most of all, service to others—Vincentian values by which I try to live my life. Over time, I came to understand how fortunate and blessed my family and I are. I believe we have an obligation to pay that forward to those less fortunate. I have tried to do that through a variety of activities. St. John’s is the foundation.”
Mr. Wirth said he is often asked by students and other young professionals the magic formula for success. “As we all know, there is none. If one lives their life focused on faith, honesty, integrity, treating others with respect, and giving back, you’ll be on the right course. This event embodies one of those prime examples of giving back. We are all giving the opportunity for that quality education to very deserving students.”
Student speaker Dylan Willis, a Finance major and a member of the Men’s Lacrosse team, told the audience that St. John’s had introduced him to an abundance of people with diverse backgrounds. “I have learned to accept and be considerate of individuals from the many groups across campus.”
He added that his time as a student-athlete has been a wonderful experience. “My genuine love for the game of lacrosse—along with an incredibly dedicated coaching staff that cares more about developing me as a man—has been a huge part of my college experience.”
Marketing major Cameron Bieler, a junior on the Men’s Lacrosse team, said he was inspired by the St. John’s stories told by the honorees. “I hope someday to be in a position like they are to give back to the University. These people are there for us.”
“It’s awesome for us to see how people’s lives at St. John’s have translated into what they are now,” observed Criminal Justice major Isabelle Aviza, a junior and a member of the Women’s Soccer team. “It has made me want to live in the moment and appreciate my time at St. John’s a bit more. I attribute a lot of what I’ve accomplished to my time here.”
“These people have done huge things, but they remember St. John’s, and they want to give back,” stressed Angelina Scoma, a Sport Management major and member of the Women’s Soccer team.
Fr. Shanley remarked that the honorees’ lives turned out so well because they internalized the values of the University. “It’s really important for the many students here tonight to see those kinds of examples. This is what you can do with your St. John’s education. We need good stories to inspire us to be better, both as individuals and as an institution.”
Bringing the lively crowd to its feet, the evening concluded with a powerful set of songs, performed by Anna Fitzpatrick ’21Ed and Remy A. Martin ’16P, ’18GEd, that included “When You Believe” and “Ain’t No Stoppin’ Us Now.”