The Independent Student Newspaper of St. John's University

The Torch

The Independent Student Newspaper of St. John's University

The Torch

The Independent Student Newspaper of St. John's University

The Torch

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19th Annual President’s Dinner Raises $2.4 Million

Lauren Finegan

Pride for St. John’s was overflowing last Thursday, Oct. 27 at the Waldorf Astoria in midtown Manhattan. Dozens of alumni, administration, faculty, students and other supporters gathered for the annual President’s Dinner to raise money for student scholarships at the University. The dinner raised $2.4 million this year, surpassing the amount raised at last year’s event.

But the dinner isn’t solely about raising funds for deserving students — it’s also about honoring those whose lives have been dedicated to SJU’s Catholic and Vincentian values through the Spirit of Service Award.

“Those receiving the Spirit of Service Awards tonight, they exemplify what St. John’s is all about,” said President Conrado “Bobby” Gempesaw, Ph.D.

Some of this year’s honorees were Brother Alfred J. Smith, C.M., founder and operational director of Inn Dwelling, and Eileen ’80CBA and Joseph A. Tarantino ’80CBA, president and CEO of  Protiviti, Inc.

“We were surprised,” Joseph said, when discussing the couple’s reaction when they found out they’d be recipients of the award.

“Very surprised!” Eileen added. “It was like ‘why us?’ We haven’t done anything special, but we’ve been very fortunate…God’s been very good to us.”

The couple expressed their love for giving back to the community, and said that the Catholic, Vincentian values of St. John’s are things they’ve always held close.

Smith, who came all the way from Germantown, PA, said more than once that the honor was overwhelming for him.  

“I just do what I feel I’m called to do, and as a follower of St. Vincent de Paul, that I was called to serve God and serve the poor,” he said, “So I just feel like I’m doing what I should be doing, or ought to do, and that I like to do and that I love to do.”

Also honored for the first time was a corporation, UnitedHealthcare. Jeffrey D. Alter ’84CBA, ’88MBA, CEO, UnitedHealthcare–Commercial Group, accepted on behalf of the company.

“We share a lot of values with St. John’s and Vincentians, so we’re appreciative of the award and the recognition, really of what our employees and what our company is committed to,” Alter said. “But like a Vincentian, we don’t seek the awards, we just want to do our service.”

The honor was also posthumously awarded to Valerie, Ph.D. ’49CBA and Gerard A. Sodano ’49CBA, whose niece, Jane Lawrence, accepted on their behalf.

“St. John’s meant so much to my aunt and uncle,” Lawrence said.

She said that the couple always stressed to their nieces and nephews the value of education, especially for the females in the family.

“Valerie went on to earn a Ph.D. in business, at a time when women didn’t go into fields like that, and both of them felt really strongly, number one, that a woman can grow up to be anything, and instilled that in us, and number two, no matter how humble your beginnings, if you have help and encouragement, you can become whatever,” she said.

Lawrence said that SJU is where these values were instilled in her aunt and uncle.

“I think they would be…delighted to have been honored and very delighted that their family is here,” Lawrence said.

The tradition of the President’s Dinner began in 1997, aimed at raising funds to create scholarships for students. Since it began, the dinner has raised more than $30 million.

“That has helped probably thousands of St. John’s alum, and in fact, many of them probably are here tonight,” Gempesaw said, speaking about the funds raised over the years.

Joseph O’Connor, ‘82 CBA, a member of the Board of Trustees and the dinner co-chair was thrilled by the dinner’s turnout.

“To me, it’s always about helping students and I find that for the people that have the opportunity to come every year, they learn that more and more each year it’s really all about ensuring student success, and what a great way to do it. It’s such a festive, fun night,” he said. “I think the thing that really comes forth from this night is the passion and the concern and the love that people have for St. John’s and the mission.”

With the dinner’s central theme being raising money for student scholarships, O’Connor spoke about what he believes St. John’s needs to do at a time when higher education is being weighed down by rising costs.

O’Connor, noting that St. John’s provided millions to students in scholarships last year, said that the University needs to partner with alumni and local businesses to do more financially for students.

“As an alumni and as a trustee I know that we have to foster an engagement with alumni, with the business community, and the local community at large to make sure that we can do more financially for our students,” he said. “The University is doing its part, but all of us, especially alumni, needs to participate in alleviating this burden. And tonight’s a great start.”

Gempesaw also offered his thoughts on relieving the financial burden that many students have to deal with. He spoke about how he froze tuition during his first year at the University, while also lowering it at the Staten Island campus.

“I am very conscious about the importance of making sure that we offer quality education at the lowest price that we can afford,” Gempesaw said. “And at the same time, we need to be effective and efficient in the use of our resources.”

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About the Contributors
Suzanne Ciechalski
Suzanne Ciechalski, Editor-in-Chief
Suzanne Ciechalski is a senior journalism major with a minor in government and politics. In her second year as EIC, she hopes to continue increasing the Torch’s editorial content by spanning coverage to include news within the local community outside of SJU, and breaking news. She also hopes to expand the Torch’s visibility by building on the paper’s online presence and by reaching out to students through stories, journalism workshops and other events. Before graduating, she hopes to instill an element of community service within the Torch by reaching out to local high schools about how the Torch can help them build on their current newspaper, or develop one. Suzanne has been with the Torch for three years, previously serving as the opinion editor and as a staff writer. Have any questions? Email Suzanne at [email protected]
Lauren Finegan
Lauren Finegan, Photo Editor
Lauren Finegan is a sophomore psychology major. She spent last year as Assistant Photo Editor. She aims to expand the engagement of photographers for the Torch as well as increase their confidence in their photography skills. Have any questions? Email Lauren at [email protected]
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