Undergrad Commencement Speaker Pick Shows a Pattern

Seniors discuss how ‘relatable’ continuous religious-related speakers are


Isabella Bruni, Managing Editor

St. John’s announced last week that the His Eminence Luis Antonio Gokim Cardinal Tagle, D.D., S.Th.D Metropolitan Archbishop of Manila will serve as the 2018 undergraduate commencement speaker on the Queens campus, adding him to St. John’s long list of religion-related speakers.

Last year’s speaker was His Eminence Peter Kodwo Appiah Cardinal Turkson, the year before Bishop Nicholas DiMarzio, Diocese of Brooklyn and in 2015 The Most Rev. David O’Connell, C.M., Bishop of Trenton.

Some graduating seniors at St. John’s question the University’s continuous choice for speakers related to the Catholic church, especially because the Staten Island campus does not always have these same types of speakers.

Senior Gab Staniszewski said she acknowledges the Cardinal’s importance, but does not see him as relevant to all students.

“Not to discredit people’s stories, because I’m sure all of the commencement speakers will have something insightful/meaningful to say, but seeing someone relatable in a successful position can give you hope and and inspire you to be just as great,” Staniszewski said.

“Cardinal Tagle has worked to become an important voice around the world for the poor and vulnerable,” President of St. John’s Conrado “Bobby” Gempesaw said to SJU News and Media.

“He is steadfast in his responses to the global refugee crisis, and is known for his humility and for his gift of communicating with young people a message of hope—a timely theme that will deeply resonate with our newest alumni as they embark on the next chapters in their lives,” he continued.

Saint Pope John Paul II appointed Cardinal Tagle to the Vatican’s International Theological Commission in 1997, appointed to his current role by Pope Benedict XVI in 2011 and named to the College of Cardinals a year later, according to SJU News and Media.

He also serves as the President of Caritas Internationalis, the Church’s worldwide federation of relief and development.

The Staten Island campus’ 2018 commencement speaker is Lt. General Michael A. Rocco ’83CBA, Deputy Commandant, Manpower and Reserve Affairs, United States Marine Corps.

Last year’s speaker was Lois T. Nicotra ’77NDC, ’83GEd Chair/Owner, The Nicotra Group LLC. Rosanna Scotto, Host of Fox 5’s “Good Day New York” was the 2016 speaker.

“The archbishop seems more relevant to the interests of the university and not the students,” senior Joseph DeRege said. “As a Catholic leader he would be a good role model for the university but most students are not going to be priests.”

DeRege discussed the St. John’s law school’s choice of commencement speaker Preet Bharara, former U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York, also a political choice.

“Preet Bharara was the U.S. DA [District Attorney] for southern Manhattan. So he’s incredibly relevant to the law school,” DeRege said.

Other universities in the city have a mix of these speakers. NYU recently announced Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau as their undergraduate commencement speaker and last year Fordham University, a Jesuit school, had two commencement speakers — Óscar Rodríguez Maradiaga, a Cardinal from Honduras, as well as Sen. Chuck Schumer.

“I think it’s hard to find a speaker that can relate to all majors,” Staniszewski said. “We are a Catholic school so it’s not surprising.”