Record-Breaking 26th Annual President’s Dinner Raises More than $3.4 Million for Student Scholarships

November 1, 2023

The 26th Annual St. John’s University President’s Dinner was a record-breaking event that raised $3,450,467—the most in its history—and the spirit of giving did not end when it concluded as in the 24 hours following the event an additional $133,113 in donations were received. The funds raised will directly benefit the University’s most deserving students.

Held on Monday, October 30, at the New York Hilton Midtown, the promise of a bright future was in the air as an atmosphere filled with hope, anticipation, and joy permeated the hotel’s Grand Ballroom. In the last 25 years, this event has raised more than $51 million for student scholarships. More than 900 preregistered guests attended.

As he addressed the gathering, Rev. Brian J. Shanley, O.P., President of St. John’s, discussed why their generosity was so important. “What is the value you are getting for doing what you are doing to support our students?”

Fr. Shanley explained that a college education is so much more than economic investment and the hope of a financial reward. “I think this idea that the worth of going to college is about how much money you’ll earn for the rest of your life is wrong—particularly at a Catholic and Vincentian institution like St. John’s.”

While making clear he hoped all St. John’s students would secure great jobs, Fr. Shanley said that’s not the primary reason we educate our students. “Work is part of a meaningful life. If you’re lucky, what you do not only gives you an income, but makes you feel like you’ve done something that makes a difference. You’ve given back to other people, worked collaboratively, and done something of meaning and significance with your life.”

He added that the evening was for celebrating people who have lived extraordinary lives and found purpose in service to others. “That lies at the heart of the Vincentian charism. The support you give to our students ensures that this legacy will be carried out.”

The men and women who best exemplify the University’s Vincentian mission were honored at the event with the Spirit of Service Award. They serve as role models as they incorporate these values into their lives in a meaningful way. The dinner affords a unique opportunity for students to interact with the honorees, who are the gold standard of St. John’s graduates: people who have never forgotten alma mater while rising to the top of their professions.

This year’s honorees were

“The Vincentian mission is near and dear to my heart,” Mr. Bender explained. “I launched my life at St. John’s. It taught me about the value of giving back.”

He added that it also helped him engage with people on a deeper level. “I’m a living example of what can happen when you help a kid go to college who might not otherwise have that opportunity. That’s what all of you are doing here tonight.”

During his remarks, Mr. Bender singled out Rino Grzinic ’77SVC, who served as Director of Development for The Lesley H. and William L. Collins College of Professional Studies, and last month transitioned to a new role at the University as Senior Adviser for Development. After noting that Mr. Grzinic was instrumental to his own dedicated involvement with St. John’s, and thanking him for his efforts to foster relationships with alumni, Mr. Bender announced the creation of an endowed scholarship in Mr. Grzinic’s honor.

Of the honor, Mr. Grzinic said, “Words cannot adequately express my gratitude for this generous and thoughtful present that will aid generations of future students—many of whom will no doubt be, like myself, the first person in their immigrant family to attend college. I pray that they, too, will be able to experience the lifelong benefits of a St. John’s education. My 24 years as a St. John’s student and employee have brought many blessings to me and my family, and this scholarship is only the latest in a long list too numerous to recount.”

Ms. Helenek stressed that St. John’s provided her with a high-quality education in the realms of pharmacy and business. “Beyond the education, St. John’s instilled in me the Vincentian values of caring, compassion, and service to others. I have never forgotten these values as my career progressed. I encourage everyone here tonight to reflect on ways you can further live out the values of St. Vincent de Paul.”

In a poignant moment demonstrating the far reach of good deeds and service, Ms. Helenek was later approached by two dinner attendees who attested to the life-saving impact of a pharmaceutical product that she helped develop.

Mr. Mattone observed that he first learned the importance of service from his parents, including his father, Joseph M. Mattone, Esq. ’53C, ’55L, ’93HON, also a graduate of St. John’s. “I don’t think it’s a coincidence that his Vincentian-influenced days at St. John’s Prep, St. John’s College, and the School of Law helped to shape him into who he became. Whatever service I have done, and will do, is a simple reflection of what I have experienced by being around this man.” Notably, Mr. Mattone’s late mother, Irene, was the first female President of the Queens County Chapter of the American Cancer Society.

Accepting Dr. Walker’s award were his granddaughters Morgan Davis Edwards, Dhara Gregory, and Faith Lyde. Ms. Edwards noted that her grandfather became one of the first African American high school principals in New York City, despite being drafted by the New York Knicks after his standout career with St. John’s University’s Men’s Basketball team.

She added, “His very humble approach to community service and giving back makes it hard even for his family to know all the ways he truly served. He expressed his love by spending time listening, advising, mentoring, and simply just showing up.”

Ms. Lyde observed that the true definition of legacy, “is not what you do while you’re here, but what you leave behind—the way the world has shifted because of you after you’re gone. Our grandfather’s legacy is really all of us, here, in this room. It is every little Black and Brown boy that he helped not just excel athletically, but academically.”

Gloria Pazmino ’10CPS, CNN Newsource National Correspondent, served as the evening’s Master of Ceremonies. During her remarks, she discussed the many signs that point to St. John’s University’s bright future, including the state-of-the-art St. Vincent Health Sciences Center, under construction on the Queens, NY, campus, and due for completion next summer.

When finished, the building will house simulation spaces, flex labs, faculty spaces, classrooms, and anatomy and chemistry labs, with a capacity for 300 nursing students and 75 physician assistant students per year.

She added that the University’s second cohort of students in the Bachelor of Science in Nursing degree program has begun their journey at St. John’s. “Establishing the nursing program is one step in a major and long-term investment in the health sciences taking place at St. John’s,” Ms. Pazmino stressed.

Heralding the arrival of new St. John’s University Men’s Basketball Head Coach Rick Pitino, who was in attendance, Ms. Pazmino predicted a bright future for the team. “There is much excitement around the team this year and the program is headed in a new direction.” She added, “New York City and this fan base is ready for a championship.”

St. John’s Women’s Basketball team is no stranger to the National Collegiate Athletic Association Tournament, Ms. Pazmino said, adding that Head Coach Joe Tartamella led them to the tournament last year, and was named BIG EAST Coach of the Year for his efforts.

Student speaker Sarah Quispe ’23C, a Psychology major who will graduate with her master’s degree in May, explained to the audience how her St. John’s scholarships have impacted her life. “One of my scholarships was for the Catholic Scholars program, which exposed me to opportunities to grow in faith, social justice advocacy, leadership in service, and community-building,” she noted.

“I can clearly say that my St. John’s education has shaped the person I am today, both inside and outside the classroom. This unique experience prompted me to realize that the very purpose of Catholic and Vincentian education is to serve society.”

During her time at St. John’s, Sarah has lived out the University’s Vincentian mission in countless ways, including serving abroad in Panama; fostering the student-run vegetable garden, which provides St. John’s Bread & Life with an abundance of fresh produce; and participating in national workshops addressing social justice and human dignity.

Risk Management and Insurance major Daniel Chacko framed the night as an opportunity for generous alumni to give back to the institution that formed them—a gift he hopes to pay forward one day. “I’ve had opportunities to engage with donors and alumni, and it’s obvious how meaningful it is for them to see us succeed,” he said.

Kevin Schulman, a Chemistry major, believes an event like the President’s Dinner is “great for the well-being of the University. It brings together so many crucial elements—our donors and alumni, the student body, faculty, administrators, and the Vincentian community. An event like this fosters community.” He added, “As students, we want to make sure our donors know how grateful we are for their support—that what they’re doing matters.”

An event like the President’s Dinner gives students a different perspective, explained Marketing major Emily Vosilla. “We see all the elaborate planning that goes into a night like this, and the strength of our alumni network. It’s also nice to see the younger alumni and feel like that could be me in a few years.”

Government and Politics major Lacey Worrall stressed that the President’s Dinner “solidifies our community. It’s great to see people in the field I want to be in and do a little networking.”

“Having the opportunity as students to experience what these honorees have accomplished lets us know that we can do that, too,” observed Emily Encalada, a Marketing major. “We can dream big.”