Relay For Life® Inspires Students to Make an Impact on the Lives of Others

April 24, 2023

On a beautiful spring evening begging to be spent outdoors, more than 400 St. John’s University students instead chose to be inside Carnesecca Arena on the Queens, NY, campus to join the fight against cancer as the University held its 18th annual Relay For Life event, raising more than $36,000.

The 12-hour event, which benefits the American Cancer Society (ACS), began at 6 p.m. on Friday, April 21, and continued long into the early morning hours.

“I’m always amazed and humbled by the spirit and the generosity of our students,” exclaimed Jack Flynn, Assistant Dean of Students, Director of Student Conduct, and coplanner of the event. “They made this event what it was–a celebration of life, a celebration of triumph over cancer, and a tribute to those we have lost but will never forget.”

Senior Julianna LoMonte from Northport, NY, has been participating in Relay For Life continuously since middle school. “It’s one of those events that brings everyone together to fight for the same cause,” she said. “We are all after the same goal, so everyone in one place has the same passion—and that leaves you with an immense feeling of strength.”

The evening began with a luminaria video on the arena’s video boards recalling those lost to the disease, followed by a “survivor’s lap” honoring those who are beating the disease. Throughout the night, students representing 30 athletic teams, student clubs, and Greek organizations, as well as survivors, marched around the perimeter of the arena’s basketball court in honor of loved ones they have lost and those currently battling the disease.

Among the survivors was Jonathan Guerrero ’19CPS, who was the event’s Survivor Speaker in 2019 when he was a senior at St. John’s. In 2016, Jonathan was diagnosed with diffuse large B-cell lymphoma, a type of non-Hodgkin lymphoma.

“I had a stem cell transplant, and fortunately, at the end of 2016 I was cleared to return to class,” he recalled.

“Throughout my journey, St. John’s supported me in so many ways. When they asked me to be a speaker my senior year, I was happy to do it and spread the message to people to enjoy life and not take things for granted.”

Today, he is cancer free. Inspired by the care he received as a patient and St. John’s Vincentian mission, he works as a Bilingual Patient Navigator for Oncology Services at NewYork-Presbyterian Hospital in Queens, where he helps people without insurance gain access to services. 

This was the fourth Relay at St. John’s for Kayla Fittipaldi, a senior from Marlboro, NJ, who served as Planning Chair this year. “I’ve actually been involved with Relay For Life since high school, so this is my eighth year of relaying. I am beyond excited to be a part of this year’s event.”

Dean Hoover, a first-year student from Maspeth, NY, has been relaying for as long as he can remember. “I wish I could find the photo of my very first St. John’s Relay; I was about six years old. I guess I’ve always dreamed of being a Johnnie,” he explained. “I relay in honor of my Uncle Paul, my Grandma Judy, and my friend, Dr. Catherine Mazzola, as well as in memory of my grandfather, my Aunt Regina, and my Uncle Bill.”

This year marks the second Relay For Life for relative-newcomer Angela Schettini, a fourth-year pharmacy student and Relay For Life committee member from Staten Island, NY. “I was inspired to participate in Relay For Life by Kayla,” she said. “She has contributed so much to Relay over the years and has worked hard to plan this year’s event.”

Relay For Life dates back to May 1985, when Gordon “Gordy” Klatt, M.D., walked and ran for 24 hours around a track in Tacoma, WA, raising money to help the ACS. Dr. Klatt covered more than 83 miles and raised $27,000 through pledges. The following year the first official Relay For Life event was held, with 19 teams raising $33,000.

“Fundraising events like these are only truly successful when participants look at it as more than just raising money,” added Mr. Flynn. As I watched hundreds of our students come together in community, enjoying each other’s company while walking together toward a brighter future for all people, I am filled with hope and anticipation for the day where events like these will no longer be necessary.”

According to the ACS, they are the only organization that integrates advocacy, research, and patient support to measurably improve the lives of cancer patients and their families. “We want to show survivors that this community at St. John’s will always be there for them,” said Danni Frank, Senior Development Manager at the ACS and the organization’s liaison to St. John’s. “It’s exciting for me because so many people here are excited about the event. There is so much enthusiasm.”

St. John’s Staten Island, NY, campus hosted its own Relay For Life event on Friday, April 14.