Once again, it’s time for St. John’s University to say goodbye to another group of students as the class of 2002 gets ready to graduate and move on. Even as they leave, they’ll still have the memories of SJU with them as they continue on in life.
As the members of the class of 2002 arrived at St. John’s, they saw a big metropolitan university that would become their home for the next few years. Although some may have felt taken aback by the atmosphere of the University, they soon were able to make it their home.”I guess I was kind of intimidated when I first got here,” said Jeff Matteo, a telecommunications major and business minor. “Just going from high school to college [was a] big jump, different experience.”
One major thing that people saw was how being a commuter school affected the University.
“Everyone was a commuter,” said Melissa Gibilaro. “We all came to class and then left. No one could hang out and get involved because it didn’t fit our schedules.”
Changes All Around
As the years went by, St. John’s University went through noticeable changes.
“I have seen an absolute metamorphosis in the school since I first came,” said Gibilaro, a psychology major and business administration minor. “I have gone from experiencing an empty cafeteria by 3 p.m. to seeing people milling around well after dark. People have gotten more involved and the campus has developed a deeper sense of community.”
“The past four years it [St. John’s] has evolved into a totally different University,” said computer science major Kristina Verbitskaya, who is also minoring in telecommunications and business administration. “It’s been very exciting, but at the same time people are resistant to change.”
“It’s changed a lot just by appearance-wise,” said Matteo.
Of course, one of the most memorable and most notable of these changes was the addition of the residence halls. At the beginning of the 1999-2000 school year, SJU opened up the Residence Village, consisting of three buildings, Hillcrest Hall, O’Connor Hall (originally Millenium Hall) and Century Hall. Last year, Hollis Hall and Briarwood Hall were added to allow more students to live on campus. “When I first came to St. John’s there were no dorms so it was all-commuter,” said Doug Snyder, a television and film major. “Nobody here really seemed to be into the university as much but it’s changed as the dorms moved in.”
“They’re trying to attract a more diverse student body, not just people from around the tri-state area,” said psychology major Stacy Phillips.
Finding a Place
For many students, as they began to get involved they were able to find their place at St. John’s, making the experience more worth while. “Being in organizations helped me find my place because I got to meet people,” said Snyder, who is a member of the Chappell Players Theatre Group, Voices of Victory and, in the past, the TV club. “It helped me to feel like I actually knew people on campus.”
“I developed my strongest friendships doing the things I love the most,” said Gibilaro, who has been involved in many organizations such has Delta Phi Epsilon, the Italian Cultural Society, St. Vincent De Paul Society and President’s Society. “Jumping into everything that I have these last two and a half years has made my experience at SJU so much more worth it.”
Besides being able to meet other people, involvement has enabled some students to learn valuable things that they can use in the future while enabling them to use the knowledge that they already have. “They [organizations] really helped me find my place at St. John’s because it’s what I like,” said Patrick Charsky, organizations chair of Student Government, Inc. who is involved in various other activities including the fraternity Tau Kappa Epsilon. “Most of the organizations are clubs and service oriented things that really give me an outlet to do what I want outside of the classroom.”
“I would say that I wouldn’t be where I am today without getting involved in Student Government and all other activities,” said Verbitskaya, whose involvement includes being the current president of Student Government. “I’m sure that it’s going to help out in the real world.”
“Being an RA has been a Godsend,” Phillips said. “I feel more socially adept. It kind of forces you to branch out and socialize with people who you probably wouldn’t have spoken to otherwise. I think that’s really beneficial.”
Throughout their journeys at St. John’s University, the members of the class of 2002 have meet many different people, some of whom have left lasting influences on their lives.
For Matteo, two people who have had a great impact on his life are the Rev. Donald J. Harrington, C.M., President of the University, and the men’s soccer head coach Dave Masur. “My freshman year I wasn’t doing too well and he [Harrington] helped me out individually to do better in school and manage my time a lot better. That really helped me a lot throughout my college experience,” Matteo said. “Coach Masur has taught me so many things dealing with soccer and life in general.”
A faculty member at SJU gave Phillips the support that she needed to help her while here. Dr. James Curley, a psychology professor, has also given Phillips more then just advice about what classes to take. “Not only has he been supportive about my journey here and everything, he’s almost like a father figure in a way,” she said. “He’s very sympathetic to any problems I’ve had. He genuinely cares about the welfare and well being of his students.”
Since Snyder has been at St. John’s he has learned a great deal from both a professor and some one who he worked with in the government and politics department. “I learned a lot from my favorite professor ever in the world. Professor [Antoinette] Durso taught me a lot about the industry,” Snyder said. “The woman who is my supervisor, Patricia Bittner, has also had a major impact. I learned how to work in an office place with her.”
When Gibilaro needed guidence, she was able to get it from a member of Campus Ministry.
“Sister Catherine [Salani] is a campus minister and has been one of the first people I have met who asks how you’re doing and sticks around to hear the response,” Gibilaro said. “She has encouraged me in whatever I had been attempting to succeed at. She will probably never know how much our conversations have meant to me or what her just being available to me has meant in this past year.”
The seniors have collected many memories in between going to class and doing papers. For some, it may have been a sporting event while for others it was their adventures in Manhattan. “I would say that going to St. John’s basketball games would be one of the best experiences I’ve had,” Charsky said.
Snyder’s most memorable experiences involve “anything that I’ve done for the first time. On the top of the list are Chappell Players and Voices of Victory performances.”
“This past year just getting to the final four of the Soccer College Cup was definitely most memorable,” said Matteo
In the case of Gibilaro, she wasn’t even in the United States for some of her most memorable times. “Despite the awesome times I’ve had in Queens, the most memorable experience was being in Rome for
a semester,” she said. “It was the most exhilarating and rewarding time of my life.”
Things to be Missed
After leaving St. John’s University, there are many things that the graduates will not be able to return and will miss and their lives continue past the college years. “I’ll miss a lot of the St. John’s atmosphere I think,” said Charsky. “I’ll probably miss my fraternity brothers, all my friends from Student Government. I’ll miss those times when I’m in those places. I’ll never have them back again.”
“A lot of great people who I’ve met I’m really going to miss like my player friends and the people around the athletic department I see everyday,” said Matteo. “I will miss the people,” Gibilaro said. “You can gain book smarts that are valuable and those that are worthless. Yet, the interaction that you have with each and every person you encounter becomes an opportunity to challenge or better yourself.”
While missing the people at St. John’s University is a big thing for many, missing involvement is another. “I’m going to miss performing with the group [Chappell Players],” said Snyder. “I’m going to come back, though, and try to perform with Alpha Psi Omega [the theatre honor society] because they do performances that even graduates can attend. Voices of Victory also lets their members come back.”
After graduation in May, it will be time for the graduates to end this chapter of their lives and travel down a new path, whether it be continuing their education or immediately entering the workforce.
Verbitskaya will be beginning a new job on June 24th, shortly after graduating. After working for a while, she hopes to return to school to earn her masters degree.
Soccer is far from done for Matteo, who will continue to play professionally.
“I’m going over to Italy to play soccer,” he said. “Ever since I was really young it was always a dream.”
Another senior who is planing to enter the work force right away is Snyder.
“I’m just looking to do something in television and film,” he said. “Wherever there are openings, that’s where I’ll go.”
Gibilaro will also work for a while before continuing her education in psychology.
Other seniors such as Phillips and Charsky will be continuing their studies immediately after graduating. Phillips has been accepted to Columbia where she will be at graduate school for counseling psychology. In the fall, Charsky is going to be starting his study of law at Syracuse Law School.
Eventually, the class of 2002 will get a chance to see each other again when they return for their first reunion. If they decide to come, they’ll get a chance to see how their former classmates have changed. “I guess it would be different to see everybody not as students but as professional people in the real world,” said Matteo. “I think that’s going to be the biggest surprise.”
“I think I’ll look forward to it,” Verbitskaya said. “It’s going to be great to find out what people have done with their lives.”
“I think it will be fun,” Charsky said. “I’m looking forward to seeing what happens.”
While many students are interested to attend their reunion to see what has become of the people they spent their college years with, other have no intentions of going.
“I’m hoping I’ll be far enough past that in life not to want to go,” Phillips said. “I want to be looking forward, not backward in my life.”
In less then a month, the time will come for the class of 2002 to say goodbye not only to the University, but also to the people who they have befriended along their SJU journey. This has left many with a mixed feeling of emotions such as happiness as well as sadness.
“I’m ready to go, ready to move on,” Charsky said. “I can actually get out of school, continue down the professional career path that I’ve wanted to be on.”
“I think I’m sad but at the same time I’m excited,” said Verbitskaya. “I don’t want it to end but at the same time I do want it to end.”
“Goodbye is always hard,” Gibilaro said. “You have the excitement of the new possibilities that lie ahead of you, but you know that nothing will ever be the same.”
For some seniors, saying goodbye won’t be final. They know that life will be far from over for them. “I just did my last performance with the Chappell Players and that was sad,” Snyder said. “I already miss it so I already kind of know what saying goodbye feels like and it’s not good but you just have to keep looking forward because there’ll always be new experiences for at least the next 10 years.”
“I don’t think that it’s bad because you can always come back,” Matteo said. “It’s not like it’s really goodbye. [You] keep in contact with the people who mean the most to you.”