On a picture-perfect Sunday with glorious sunshine, St. John’s University held its 153rd annual Commencement Exercises on the Great Lawn on May 21. More than 2,300 undergraduate degrees were conferred at the ceremony for students attending the Queens, Staten Island, and Manhattan, NY, campuses, and for those earning their degrees through online coursework.
During his welcoming remarks, Rev. Brian J. Shanley, O.P., President of St. John’s, asked graduates, “What is the meaning of your life?” He added, “We are uniquely gifted by God for a purpose-driven life,” and encouraged graduates to find that purpose. “And do not confuse your purpose with your job. A meaningful job is part of a meaningful life, but the meaning of your life is something deeper and more important than your job.”
He added, “We find meaning in our lives in telling a story about ourselves, and we live in communities that find meaning in larger stories. We need to find redemptive stories that give us hope to persevere and to grow. You have been exposed to many narratives at St. John’s, and you need to keep searching for the stories that will bring meaning to your lives.”
His Eminence Timothy Cardinal Dolan, Ph.D. ’10HON, Archbishop of New York, served as Commencement speaker, and was also presented with the Gold Medal—the highest honor the University can bestow upon a nonalumnus.
Educated by the Vincentian community himself, Cardinal Dolan told graduates that both he and they were in the community’s debt. “They are a most radiant jewel in the crown of Holy Mother Church and in Western civilization.”
“You are my professors this beautiful spring morning,” he told graduates. “You are teaching me the pivotal importance of an education.” In an age that emphasizes earning, getting, action, and pleasure, “you opted for a value less coveted, but surely more enduring—time out for learning.”
Graduates, Cardinal Dolan stressed, were telling him they cherish community. “You chose to learn from and with other people. That’s a college community at its finest.”
St. John’s University is an institution that prides itself on tradition, Cardinal Dolan offered. It is a tradition fostered by the Catholic Church and inspired by the Vincentian legacy. “You are true radicals in that you’ve returned to roots nurtured in the rich soil of tradition, that go back to the truth as revealed by God, especially in His son Jesus, the way, the truth, and the light. Way to go, St. John’s Class of 2023! Thanks for teaching me a lot of valuable lessons.”
The University also conferred honorary doctoral degrees to Sr. Regina M. Bechtle, S.C., Charism Resource Director, Sisters of Charity of New York; and Pascal Desroches ’86CBA, Senior Executive Vice President and Chief Financial Officer, AT&T, Inc.
In a special separate ceremony, the University conferred an honorary Doctor of Commercial Science degree on Maurice “Hank” Greenberg, the namesake of the Maurice R. Greenberg School of Risk Management, Insurance and Actuarial Science at St. John’s University. He serves as Chairman of Starr Insurance Companies, a global insurance and investment organization, and is the former Chairman and CEO of American International Group.
On May 19, the University conferred graduate degrees to students in four of its Schools and Colleges: St. John’s College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, The Peter J. Tobin College of Business, The Lesley H. and William L. Collins College of Professional Studies, and the College of Pharmacy and Health Sciences.
Student speaker Jethro Casie, graduating with his Business Analytics degree, said the word “growth” perfectly sums up his St. John’s experience. “The thing about growth,” he said, “is that it’s hard at first, messy in the middle, yet so beautiful in the end.”
Another analogy Jethro put forth for the journey toward Commencement was that of running. “When you’re running up a hill, your body is in pain, your feet hurt, your arms are tired from swinging back and forth, you start to feel pain in places you didn’t know could hurt, and if that wasn’t enough, your mind is asking you, ‘Why are we doing this?’” He added, “I believe we all ran the same race, but each of us had a different route to reach the finish line.”
Several graduates shared their most treasured memories of their St. John’s experience. Biology major Asim Khan recalled that when he did poorly on a test he would play basketball with friends in Taffner Field House. “Being with them always lifted my spirits on a bad day.”
On this special day he felt accomplished, but tired. “I’ve been waking up early for the last five years. I was hoping the ceremony would be at noon,” he joked.
Jasmin Ibrocevic, a History major and a student from the Staten Island campus, always looked forward to his job at the Office of Student Financial Services, where he would go after his classes. “I had that feeling of going from school to a job all in one day. It was nice balancing the two experiences—and great practice for the future.”
Anthropology major Keely Bradley was thrilled to return to campus after the COVID-19 lockdown. “It was really rough having to isolate, and when I got back I realized how much I missed my friends. I loved seeing campus slowly come back to life and being part of residence life again. I’m sad today, but ready for the next chapter.”
Rachel Leviyev, also a Biology major, completed her degree in three years and is applying to medical school. Pointing to a group of friends, she said, “These friends I’ve made will be with me for a long time. This is such a thrill. It’s very special.”
Rodrigo De Almeida, a Business Administration major, pointed to his first St. John’s Christmas tree lighting in 2021 as his favorite college memory. “I just remember a great camaraderie with my friends that night. We were all together, making jokes, laughing, having a great time. It was a great ceremony that put us all in the holiday spirit.” On Commencement day, Rodrigo was feeling nervous, but confident St. John’s put him on the right path.
Marketing major Matthew Bhonsly was most proud of starting the University’s Motor Enthusiast organization. “It was a great experience starting something from scratch that has grown significantly from an eBoard of five people to more than 100 members. It’s great to leave a legacy behind.”
Anthony Lynch, an Accounting major with a minor in Italian, commented on his unique combination of subject concentrations. Pointing to a sash on his robe with the colors of the Italian flag, Anthony wanted to explore that aspect of his heritage by studying abroad. “I took advantage of the Rome, Italy, campus and all it had to offer, immersing myself in the language and culture as much as possible.”
“When we came back after the pandemic, my suitemates and I would get takeout and eat family style for dinner, and that was something I never did growing up,” said Isabella DiPalma, a Philosophy major. “Today is bittersweet. I’m ready to move on, but St. John’s has been a really meaningful part of my life.”