Commencement Exercises Celebrate Success and Highlight Service

Student walking across commencement stage
May 21, 2018

More than 2,000 undergraduate and graduate degrees were conferred to students from the Queens and Staten Island campuses at St. John’s University’s 148th annual Commencement Exercises held on Saturday, May 19 and Sunday, May 20, 2018.

Enthusiasm and joy were on display at both ceremonies where families and friends gathered to commemorate the accomplishments of the graduates. More than 1,800 seniors received their bachelor’s degrees at the Queens undergraduate ceremony, held on May 20, on the Great Lawn.

The Staten Island ceremony, held on May 19, was moved indoors on the Queens campus due to inclement weather. Nearly 230 undergraduate and graduate  students received their degrees inside Carnesecca Arena.

During the preceding week, the University conferred more than 1,400 graduate degrees to students in five of its schools and colleges: St. John’s College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, The School of Education,The Peter J. Tobin College of Business, the College of Professional Studies, and the College of Pharmacy and Health Sciences. Graduates heard speeches from leaders in business, academia, and the sciences.   

The Most Reverend Nicholas DiMarzio, PhD., D.D., Bishop of the Diocese of Brooklyn, and frequent visitor to St. John’s University,  observed, “I love attending Commencement at St. John’s because I see so many residents of the diocese and all of the diversity, the different religions, and the different ethnic groups that are found here on campus,”  adding, “It is really a study in what New York is about and certainly what the Diocese of Brooklyn and Queens is all about it. I just love it.”

Joining the Ranks of Alumni around the World  

Conrado “Bobby” Gempesaw, Ph.D., President of St. John’s, noted in his opening remarks at the Queens undergraduate ceremony that he began his tenure when many of Sunday’s graduates were freshmen. “As I reflect on the past four years, I am truly blessed to be given the opportunity to serve as your President,” he said. “Today, because of your hard work and perseverance, we celebrate your achievements that will serve as the foundation for the next stage of your careers.”

He shared some facts with the graduates about what makes their class unique. “We have 138 students who are graduating today who have proudly served in the military; among our graduates are 59 student-athletes; there are also 119 international students from 38 countries and 511 students have studied abroad.”

“But what is very impressive,” Dr. Gempesaw said, “is that 476 students will graduate with honors and 19 undergraduates are graduating with a perfect 4.0 GPA.”

Dr. Gempesaw was met with applause from the crowd of 14,000 people gathered on the Great Lawn when he added, “Your success is our success, and our success is yours as well. So let me be the first to welcome all of you officially as alumni of St. John’s University.”

Graduates Urged to Find and Serve “the Missing” in Society

His Eminence Luis Antonio Gokim Cardinal Tagle, D.D., S.Th.D, Metropolitan Archbishop of Manila, delivered a powerful Commencement Address at the Queens undergraduate ceremony, stressing to graduates to “meet the needs of humanity.” The Cardinal also received an Honorary Doctor of Humane Letters degree from the University.

Cardinal Tagle spoke to graduates about the needs of “the missing persons”—those often lost and marginalized in our interdependent, complex, and global society.

“Of the many needs of humanity today that, you, fresh graduates will have to face, I believe that exclusion, alienation, and the disappearance of persons need your urgent attention.” Cardinal Tagle asked graduates to remember those who have been kidnapped, murdered, and lost during war.

The Cardinal emphasized that people are also lost to human trafficking, online exploitation, poverty, injustice, neglect, marginalization, racism, and similar phenomena. “We have to confront the many causes of the disappearance of human persons in our consciousness. The human family needs to be saved from exclusion and disconnectedness.”   

He observed, “The poor disappear as human beings in an unjust economic system. We need an examination of consciousness, and a renewal of mentalities and attitudes that will promote communion, which will open eyes and hearts to the humanity of other people. We also need social structures that will allow room for the values of communion and solidarity to flourish.”

Cardinal Tagle told the Class of 2018 they will miss the University. “But remember, the world you walk in has many missing persons. Encounter them, build bridges, touch their hands, listen to their stories, have communion with them.”

Celebrating Service, Leadership, and Keys to Success

At the Staten Island Commencement ceremony, Lt. General Michael A. Rocco ’83CBA, Deputy Commandant, Manpower and Reserve Affairs, United States Marine Corps, addressed the students and their families with the theme of  “mission first, people always.” 

“I am proud to count myself among the more than 181,000 living alumni in St. John’s global network,” said Lt. Gen. Rocco during his Commencement address. “Of the many professional accomplishments I have been fortunate to achieve in my career, graduating from St. John’s ranks near the top.”

Lt. Gen. Rocco shared with the graduates two phrases that have guided him during his distinguished military career – “opportunity and sacrifice” and “dignity and respect.”  These core principles combined with his St. John’s education and experience helped make him the leader that he is today.

“You have developed the technical skills necessary to be successful in your chosen field—whether that is as a teacher, chemist, accountant, civil servant, or the military.  But, to be truly successful, you will need to work hard.” He added, “St. Vincent de Paul’s call to his followers was to dedicate themselves to those in the greatest need—to lead a life of service.”

Reflections from the Class of 2018

New alumni considered their St. John’s experience and how it will shape them going forward. “Most high schoolers are told not to expect their college professors to care about them as much as their high school teachers did,” noted Physics major Claire Alvine. “At St. John’s, my professors genuinely cared about me and my future. St. John’s is not just a school, but a community. I am grateful to all of the people I have met who supported and encouraged me to pursue my goals.”

"For four years, St. John’s University has been so much more than just a school for me,” said President’s Society member and English major Aria Laucella. “It has been a world where I’ve gotten to live out truly beautiful experiences and make unforgettable memories. Most importantly, it has always encouraged me to impact and change the world, and the people around me—and that has truly changed my life.”

She added, “Graduating from St. John’s means the world to me because I know my diploma is so much more than a piece of paper. It is a testament to my persistence, the joy I felt, and faith I kept, as I lived what it means to be a student shaped by Catholic and Vincentian values.”

Queens Undergraduate Ceremony
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Staten Island Ceremony
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View Photos from Graduate Ceremonies
St. John's College of Liberal Arts and Sciences Graduate Ceremony
The School of Education Graduate Ceremony
The School of Education Graduate Ceremony Gallery 2
The Peter J. Tobin College of Business Graduate Ceremony
College of Pharmacy and Health Sciences Graduate Ceremony
College of Pharmacy and Health Sciences Ph.D. and Master Robing Ceremony
College of Professional Studies Graduate Ceremony