SJU in process of confirming commencement speakers

With commencement less than two months away, St. John’s officials say they are waiting to hear back from two potential speakers for the Queens and Staten Island campuses.

According to Dominic Scianna, assistant vice president of Media Relations, requests have been sent out to two “high-profile” individuals. He said he is confident the University will be able to secure speakers in time for the two graduations on May 16 and 17.

“There has been no stalling or setbacks [in the process],” Scianna said. “We’re ready with backups, as well.”

He said he hopes to hear responses soon and intends to make an official announcement in the near future.

“I think we’ll have a resolution in April,” Scianna said.

Many New York universities announced their commencement speakers in mid-March. NYU, for example, announced earlier last month that U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton would speak during itscommencement.

Bob Schieffer, CBS News Anchor and Moderator of Face the Nation is speaking at Hofstra University, and Fordham University announced television anchor Tom Brokaw as its speaker.

But Scianna said the University does not feel the need to rush an announcement.

“We run on our own timetable,” he said. “If other schools have already made the announcement, then hats off to them. But we are waiting for confirmation before we make our official announcement.”

Last year, WCBS anchor Dana Tyler delivered the commencement address for the Staten Island campus while University President Rev. Donald Harrington filled in as the speaker of the Queens campus.

Scianna said that last year the school could not obtain a commencement speaker from outside the St. John’s community for the Queens campus in time for graduation.

“We had a few [requests] that didn’t work out, but Rev. Harrington was gracious enough to step in and he did a wonderful job,” he said.

In the past, the University has hosted prominent commencement speakers ranging from Ray Kelly, Commissioner of the New York City Police Department, in 2005 to political and news anchor George Stephanopoulos in 2007.

Scianna said the selection of a commencement speaker is a yearlong process.
He also mentioned that a committee co-chaired by himself and Pamela Shea-Byrnes, vice president for University Ministry and University Events, is responsible for selecting the annual commencement speakers.

The committee also includes representation from SGI, the office of the Provost, the office of the President, offices within the Staten Island and Manhattan campuses, the department of government and politics, and various other offices, Scianna said.

Senior Joseph Ienuso said that he feels it is important to find a commencement speaker that can “articulate our feelings at the time.”

“You want to get a speaker that’s a role model – someone who is prestigious but also has good values.”

Junior Jessica Diep said that having a good commencement speaker is important, but not just for the students graduating.

“This is your last impression of the school,” she said, “but it’s also important for the parents who attend, the people who oftentimes helped pay for their kids to get through school.”

Ienuso added that having a prestigious commencement speaker does more for a University than just provide an entertaining speech at graduation.

“It’s a feather in a school’s cap,” he said. “What it’s really about is the ongoing representation of St. John’s as
a whole.”