St. Joseph’s University, New York celebrated the remarkable achievements of the Class of 2023 during its 104th annual commencement ceremony, held on Thursday, May 25, at Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum in Uniondale, New York.
A total of 1,241 degrees were conferred by the University, with a significant number of graduates having embarked on their college journey amidst the initial outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic. The momentous occasion marked the second consecutive combined commencement ceremony for St. Joseph’s Brooklyn, Long Island and Online campuses, as well as the institution’s second as a university.
The ceremony drew over 4,000 attendees, including graduates and their guests, as well as University faculty, staff and alumni. Among the graduates, 870 studied at the Long Island Campus and 277 attended the Brooklyn Campus. St. Joseph’s Online program counted 94 degree earners.
Many of the accomplished individuals were the first in their families to earn a college degree.
St. Joseph’s Class of 2023 consisted of 939 students who earned bachelor’s degree and 302 who received master’s degrees. Notably, the class was led by two valedictorians:
- Maeve McKeon, Brooklyn Campus Valedictorian: A criminal justice major, McKeon was a four-year member of the softball team and served as vice president in the Student Government Association.
- Asma Hosein, Long Island Campus Valedictorian: Hosein, a child study major with a concentration in psychology, served in a plethora of leadership roles, including co-program director for the Campus Activities Board and president of the CEC/Educators Club. She was also the president of the Kappa Delta Pi International Honor Society in Education and co-founder and treasurer of the Women’s Empowerment Club.
A Ceremonious Celebration
During the ceremony, St. Joseph’s University bestowed honorary doctorate degrees upon two distinguished individuals who have made significant contributions to student life at the institution. Marian Russo, former director of Student Services and Activities on the Long Island Campus, served the university for 30 years. Sherrie Van Arnam, who held various administrative roles at the Brooklyn Campus for nearly four decades, most recently as the special assistant to the president for Student Life, was also recognized.
Van Arnam emphasized the value of co-curricular activities and Student Life in her commencement address, highlighting their impact beyond the classroom. She expressed gratitude for the honorary doctorates and paid tribute to her mentor, S. Mary Florence Burns, for providing her with the opportunity to begin her fulfilling career at St. Joseph’s.
“The Honorary Doctorates we have been granted today provide an opportunity to shine a spotlight on the importance and value of Student Life and co-curricular activities, sometimes referred to as ‘the education you receive outside the classroom,'” Van Arnam said.
In her speech, Marian Russo blended heartfelt reflections with a touch of humor. Jokingly, she assured the audience, “I’ve been given the honor, from a place that has meant the world to me for more than 30 years, to give a speech to you, but I promise it won’t last more than an hour!”
Russo humbly noted to the crown that the closest she had come to a doctorate degree before the ceremony was when she typed up her husband Ray’s Ph.D. thesis.
“I said I came close because little did Ray know that in addition to typing, I was editing his work as I went along,” Russo continued. “I guess that’s one of the prerogatives of being an English major.”
St. Joseph’s University President Donald R. Boomgaarden, Ph.D., praised the students for accomplishing an incredible goal.
“You’ve achieved something wonderful, and it has been no small task over the last few years,” Dr. Boomgaarden said. “You’ve made a dream come true, but you’ve not done it alone.
“This is a day of celebration, but it’s also a day of reflection,” he added. “It’s a day to reflect on the values that strengthen us as individuals and members of a family, as graduates of St. Joseph’s University. It’s also your last day as students of St. Joseph’s, but it’s not your last day as a learner, for while St. Joseph’s never promised it could teach you everything, we do hope we have prepared you to learn anything.”
Students Share Their Stories
Emily Burroughs, a four-year member of the Brooklyn softball team and the campus’ Student Government Association president this past year, remarked on the unique adversity the Class of 2023 overcame.
“Once the pandemic hit my freshman year, our class really had to grind and pave our own paths,” said Burroughs, who accepted a B.S. in Biology with minors in psychology and chemistry. “The academic achievement of completing our degrees is worthy of celebration on its own, but I don’t want to let the rest go unnoticed.”
Echoing those thoughts was Long Island Campus graduate Myrka Argueta.
“Despite me not being able to live that college experience the way I wanted to, I am still grateful for all of the professors I had pushing us to do our best. I am also proud of myself for never giving up,” said Argueta, a first-generation college graduate who earned a B.S. in Criminal Justice with a minor in Music History. “This is not only a huge accomplishment for myself, it is also an accomplishment for my family, as well as my community.”
Abhishek Pokharel, an international student from Nepal, noted what an incredibly proud moment his graduation is for himself and his family. In just three years at St. Joseph’s, Pokharel, a Brooklyn Campus graduate, earned a double-major bachelor’s degree in Mathematics and Computer Science.
“This graduation represents not only the completion of my undergraduate degree but also a milestone of economic independence and personal resilience,” said Pokharel, whose family attended the ceremony virtually back home in Nepal. “Living abroad for my education has humbled me and taught me valuable lessons in financial management, while also strengthening my ability to overcome homesickness and maintain a strong academic focus.”
After receiving his B.S. in Organizational Management on Thursday, military services veteran Nathan Gardner will now turn his attention toward pursuing an MBA at St. Joseph’s this fall. The graduate served as vice president of the Long Island Campus chapter of the Student Veterans of America.
“This accomplishment means a lot to me in terms of what my future can now look like and be compared to what I’ve been through after the military,” said Gardner, who attended the ceremony with his service dog Kenzo. “I’m the first person in my family to get an undergraduate degree, and I’m staying at St. Joseph’s for my graduate degree, so I’m very proud of that in general.”
Leadership in Action
Taylor Callahan, the Brooklyn Campus’ recipient of the Donald R. Boomgaarden Leadership in Action Award, will continue her education at the Bank Street School of Education, where she plans to study early childhood special education.
“Graduation day represents the culmination of dedication, hard work and devotion to my education,” said Callahan, a Brooklyn native who earned a B.A. in Child Study. “As a first-generation college student in my family, commencement is a celebration of my individual accomplishments and a recognition of the support and encouragement I have received from loved ones along the way.”
On the Long Island Campus, psychology and human services double major Dana Storm, received the Donald R. Boomgaarden Leadership in Action Award.
“It’s been an honor to attend and get to know each and every student, and it’s an honor to graduate from St. Joseph’s,” she said.
Anthony Cinquemani, who earned a B.S. in Biology and was a pitcher for the Long Island Campus’ baseball team, thanked his parents for their continued support.
“They have always pushed me to be the best I could be, as well as given me the confidence needed in times when I doubted my abilities,” said Cinquemani, who plans on continuing college to become a physician’s assistant.
Keshia Holder, 44, earned a B.S. in Health Administration from the Brooklyn Campus. Despite her busy career as a practice manager at Weill Cornell Medicine, she was inspired by her children to return to school.
“It’s been five straight years of nonstop classes, but it was definitely worth it,” said Holder, who was accompanied by her son, who this month graduated from the Berkeley School of Music in Boston, and her daughter, a medical school student at Boston University. “The degree wasn’t actually needed because I already had the title and the roll. It was more just for personal gain.”
Mathematics and Computer science major Christopher Stewart has a software engineering job lined up at The Hartford and will attend New York University this fall in pursuit of a master’s degree.
“My hopes for my career are to work as a software engineer in my company’s accessibility’s team,” the Brooklyn Campus graduate said. “I want to focus on the human-computer interaction challenges that impact those with accessibility needs in the software industry.”
For 40-year-old Lou Hopper of Ronkonkoma, the commencement ceremony was the end of a long road of stops and goes.
“It’s been a long journey for me,” said Hopper, who received a master’s degree in organizational management from the Long Island Campus. “Ultimately, it just felt like the next logical step for my career. I definitely feel relief. It’s a day — with the way my life progressed — I thought would never get here.”
‘Friends Since We Were Babies’
From best friends since they were babies (born just two weeks apart) to sorority sisters at St. Joseph’s Long Island Campus, Madison Corso and Sara Indelicato were excited about taking this next step together.
“I feel this is like the end of a chapter, but the start of everything. Like, from here on, it’s only going to get better,” Indelicato, a psychology major, said of commencement.
Corso, a speech-language pathology and audiology major who had family at the ceremony as well as watching the University’s livestream broadcast of the event, shared that she was very emotional but ultimately very excited about her time at St. Joseph’s coming to an end.
Randy Robinson, 31, of Jamaica, Queens, earned a bachelor’s in medical technology at the Brooklyn Campus.
“It’s been a fantastic year,” said Robinson, who moved to New York from Guyana when he was 20 and now works as a medical aide at Sunrise Medical Laboratories on Long Island. “A lot of ups and downs, but I made it. I did it.”
Fatherly Motivation for Air Force Vet
Antonio Perez Reynoso, who earned a B.S. in Biology, graduated in five years after taking a gap year for deployment in the U.S. Air Force, which he’s been in for six and a half years and plans on continuing in as active military.
“I feel really proud and happy that I made it this far,” said the Patchogue resident, who has served in Qatar, Iraq and Jordan. “My biggest hurdle in getting here was probably my deployment.
“When you have downtime, it leaves you a lot of time to think, and in those moments I’d think about not finishing my degree,” Reynoso continued. “But my dad encouraged me to stick to my path. Hopefully I’ll have a better future because of this degree.”
Perla Moran, who enlisted with Reynoso in the same U.S. Air Force base and has also served six and a half years with plans to continue on, received a B.S. in Business Administration from the Long Island Campus.
“I’m also really excited to be here today,” the Westhampton resident said.