More than 2,300 undergraduate degrees were conferred to students on the Great Lawn at St. John’s University during its 149th annual commencement Sunday. More than 14,000 guests gathered to watch family and friends and commemorate their accomplishments of the class of 2019, the largest graduating class at St. John’s in three decades.
“Today commemorates all of our hard work and accomplishments,” sport management major Anthony Paventa said. “What is really special is having faculty, administrators, family and friends in the same place at one time. All of them have helped us along the way. This is a great day.”
In his congratulatory remarks, St. John’s University President Dr. Conrado Gempeshaw, Ph.D, said the class of 2019 featured 60 student-athletes, as well as 128 international students from 35 countries. More than 600 students studied abroad and a total of 121 graduates served in the military.
“At St. John’s, I am very proud to say we turn hope and aspirations into achievements and accomplishments,” Gempeshaw said. “Today, because of your hard work and perseverance, we celebrate achievements that will hopefully serve as the foundation for your success in the future, both personally and professionally.”
More than 40 percent of the class graduated with honors: 296 summa cum laude, 296 magna cum laude and 428 cum laude. In addition, 22 students graduated with a perfect 4.0 cumulative grade point average.
Margaret M. Keane, a member of the class of 1981 and CEO of Synchrony, one of the nation’s premier consumer financial services company, delivered the Commencement address. During her speech, Keane, the secretary of the university’s board of trustees, highlighted many of the changes she has witnessed both at St. John’s and in Queens.
“Today, this school has been transformed. You come from many different backgrounds, ethnicities and cultures,” she said. “This is one of the most diverse colleges in the United States.”
Keane is a Queens native who regularly ranks on Fortune’s “Most Powerful Women” list and is one of only 24 female CEOs in the Fortune 500. Her earliest professional experience was in debt collection at Citibank, and she told the graduates the experience affected her deeply.
“Whether we are rich or poor, famous or unknown, we are all trying to make it through life,” Keane said. “When you remember that, you approach the world with a bit more kindness. Everyone is an individual, and you do not always know what they face. I try to bring more kindness and empathy into who I am and what I do. I learned that right here at St. John’s.”
Communication arts major Beverly Danquah, the student speaker, proudly proclaimed, “If there is anything I know for sure about the class of 2019, it is that we are passionate and undaunted. We have the work ethic to match our ambitions.”