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St. John’s grads welcome future challenges

By Phil Corso

St. John’s University class of 2013 student speaker Kevin Lee Grover summed it up with three words when asked what his generation had the potential to do in the years ahead: Change the world.

The Peter J. Tobin College of Business graduate delivered an enthusiastic address to nearly 2,800 of his classmates and 19,000 of their family members Sunday at the college’s 143rd commencement ceremony at the Jamaica Estates campus Sunday, outlining why he felt the best days were ahead.

“We, the millennials, are not afraid of the challenges that no doubt await us in our future,” Grover said. “We will apply the skills gained here at St. John’s to make the necessary changes for a better tomorrow.”

This year some students sported an extra layer on top of the traditional graduation gowns in the form of plastic ponchos, but the constant trickling drizzle falling over the morning ceremony did not put a damper on the day’s theme of remembering the college’s record of service and outreach, especially late last year during Superstorm Sandy.

In his final commencement address as the 15th president of the college, the Rev. Donald J. Harrington reminded the class of 2013 to never forget the lessons they learned in the face of disaster.

“Even on this special and most joyous occasion, we cannot help but recall the great suffering endured by so many of our neighbors at the time of Superstorm Sandy,” Harrington said. “Personally, I am deeply proud of the number of our students and staff who ventured forth from this campus to help and assist in other parts of Queens and Staten Island for many weeks and months after that tragedy.”

Harrington, 67, announced this month his impending retirement, effective July 31. He addressed the college in his last graduation ceremony after an invocation delivered by Brooklyn Diocese Bishop Nicholas DiMarzio.

In welcoming the ceremony’s commencement speaker, U.S. Rep. Peter King (R-Massapequa Park), Harrington put the spotlight back to Sandy and thanked the elected official for his leadership when it was needed most.

King, who also received an honorary doctor of laws degree at the graduation, threw big numbers at the great lawn full of graduates, detailing Sandy’s roughly $33 billion in overall damage, 300,000 damaged homes and 2 million residents left without power across the Northeast.

But all it takes to make a difference, King said, was one.

“Lesser people would have given up, or even worse, turned against one another or looked out only for themselves,” King said. “That was not the spirit of New York or New Jersey. I am absolutely confident as you go forward from St. John’s that you will successfully and courageously confront and overcome critical challenges by doing what is right, whether or not it is popular.”

The ceremony also honored Suzanne Halpin, executive vice president of Rubenstein Communications, with an honorary doctor of letters for her career in public relations.

One day earlier, the Vincentian college held a smaller Staten Island commencement ceremony as well for about 300 grads, offering an honorary doctor of humane letters to St. John’s the Rev. Patrick Griffin and an honorary doctor of laws to FDNY Commissioner Sal Cassano for his service during Sandy.

Reach reporter Phil Corso by e-mail at pcorso@cnglocal.com or by phone at 718-260-4573.

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