By Madina Toure

More than 100 people attended St. John’s University’s annual Veteran’s Day ceremony in honor of the service and contributions of veterans throughout the country a day ahead of Veterans Day.

The ceremony, attended by recent veterans and those dating back to the Korean War, including St. John’s student veterans, was held in the D’Angelo Center of the university’s campus at 8000 Utopia Parkway in Hillcrest.

Dr. Conrado Gempesaw, St. John’s University’s president, said his grandfather served during World War I and that his nephew came back from deployment in Afghanistan.

“Veterans Day is more than a celebration,” Gempesaw said during the ceremony. “It is a day where we reflect, respect and give thanks to those who serve in armed forces.”

Lt. Colonel Marci Miller, commander of the ROTC Red Storm Battalion and professor of military science at St. John’s, said that Veterans Day is “a day of triumph,” noting that it is a day of tribute and reflections but also of celebration.

“We process and experience combat differently, but we must join each other in that experience and be there for one another,” Miller said. She also expressed satisfaction with the large number of young people who are interested in enlisting in the army.

State Assemblyman David Weprin (D-Fresh Meadows) said his office has held clothing drives for veterans and that they received many clothes, indicating how much support there is for veterans. “It just shows that there is still strong support,” Weprin said.

This year’s special honoree was St. John’s alumnus Jerry Ojeda, who founded the university’s Student Veterans Association.

After he completed his freshman year in 1993, Ojeda enlisted in the U.S. Army and served for 10 years. He returned to St. John’s to pursue his criminal justice degree, which he completed in 2013.

His establishment of the Student Veterans Association led to the creation of the Veteran’s Success Center, a designated space for student veterans to unite and receive academic, professional and health resources.

Ojeda credited Mary Pelkowski, associate dean for student engagement, with supporting the veteran community at the university.

He said that when he got to the university, he did not know where to find basic services, saying the association was a way to assist veterans. “I was able to meet Mary,” he said. “I sat with her and I just told her my story.”

Sujey Roman, 29, a Bronx native and a junior at St. John’s served in the U.S. Navy from 2006 to 2012 as a machinist mate, which entails dealing with mechanics and engineering for the ship.

She said she appreciated hearing from different people, both veterans and non-veterans, on Veteran’s Day.

“I really enjoyed it, a lot of people expressing their thoughts toward Veterans Day,” Roman said. “It makes you feel good.”

She also said the Student Veterans Association helped her adapt to the school, which she said has treated her very well.

“I wasn’t fully aware of who was a veteran here and who wasn’t (when I first started),” she said.

Queens College also held a luncheon for veterans sponsored by the Queens College Veterans Club, Veteran Support Services of Queens College, VFW Post 3427 and Amalgamated Bank.

City Councilman Rory Lancman (D-Hillcrest) honored veterans Christian Valencia, Sey Schwartz and George Bunger at the event.

Reach reporter Madina Toure by e-mail at mtoure@cnglocal.com or by phone at (718) 260–4566.

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