Nearly 340 students will receive degrees from St. Joseph’s College during SJC Brooklyn’s 99th commencement ceremony Sunday at 1 p.m. at the New York Marriott at the Brooklyn Bridge.
SJC President Donald R. Boomgaarden, Ph.D., will deliver the commencement address to the Class of 2018, which includes 230 undergraduates and 108 graduates. Class valedictorian and Student Government Association President Juanita Arias will also speak at the event.
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Among the SJC Brooklyn graduates are some truly impressive stories.
Frances Fumo Chionchio, a Brooklyn native, graduated from St. Joseph’s College in 1955. Over the decades since, she has watched her five children, three of her grandchildren, her sister Rita Fumo Sweeney ’58 and her daughter-in-law graduate from SJC Brooklyn. The SJC family legacy continues to grow in 2018, with Chionchio’s grandson Jonathon Gallo graduating on Sunday. He becomes the 12th person in his family to graduate from SJC.
Ten family members – including Chionchio – are expected to attend the commencement ceremony. Gallo’s mom Lisa Chionchio Gallo ’81 and his grandmother are expected to participate in the ceremony.
“There was an aura at the campus,” Chionchio said about SJC Brooklyn in the 1950s, noting that she felt at home there. “I wanted my children to experience it. The principles of the school — they sort of get under your skin and into your heart. And as my children and grandchildren attended St. Joseph’s, I saw the change in them.”
Jonathon Gallo’s sister Gabrielle graduated from SJC in 2016.
Class of 2018 Valedictorian
SGA President Juanita Arias, a sociology and biology major, is the Class of 2018 valedictorian. Recipient of the Future Alumni Leadership Award at this year’s Leadership Luncheon, she’s graduating summa cum laude and as a member of Delta Epsilon Sigma, Kappa Gamma Pi and Sigma Iota Chi.
Delta Epsilon Sigma is a national honor society based on outstanding academic accomplishment, dedication to intellectual activity and service to others. Kappa Gamma Pi is a national honor society with membership based on scholarship, leadership and service. And Sigma Iota Chi is the honor society of St. Joseph’s College, Arts and Sciences, with membership based on academic performance and outstanding personal qualities, reflected in involvement or service in co-curricular activity at the College.
Arias, an ACES (Academic Center for English Language Studies) honor student, is very involved in activities on and off campus. This academic year alone, she brought together every SJC Brooklyn club to donate to a Thanksgiving food and activities drive; welcomed incoming freshmen with an inspiring speech at the fall 2017 Orientation; helped raise money for earthquake relief in Taiwan; attended Lobby Day in Albany to advocate against financial aid cuts; and was a Student Leadership Experience Participant.
So Much More Than a Student-Athlete
Alec Willis spent all four years at SJC as a well-decorated student-athlete. He was a starter every year for the men’s basketball team, and he joined the cross country and volleyball teams during his senior season. He served as a team captain on the basketball team since the end of his sophomore year and as president of the Bears Student-Athlete Advisory Committee (SAAC) this year.
Under Willis’ leadership, SAAC started focusing on bridging the gap between student-athletes and the rest of the school. The Staten Island, New York, native recently oversaw the planning and implementation of the Battle of the Bears competition, which had each of the campus’ 14 sports programs compete throughout the year in categories designed to increase campus involvement, competition, academic excellence and service. Willis personally helped bridge the gap by joining the SJC Brooklyn Chapel Players Dramatic Society during the spring semester. The business administration major made his theatrical debut in their production of “Rumors” early last month.
Willis, a cancer survivor, pushed himself just as hard in the classroom as he did on the court and on stage. Always embodying putting student before athlete, he became the fourth Bear in any sport to receive CoSIDA All-District Team accolades. He was also a two-time honoree on the Bears Student-Athlete Team and a three-time selection to the Skyline Academic Honor Roll. Additionally, he has been named to the Skyline All-Sportsmanship Team.
Returning to SJC, Celebrating at Commencement
After earning a bachelor’s degree from SJC Brooklyn in 2000, Tom Hoefner returned to the College in 2003. He worked as an adjunct professor, directing the Chapel Players Dramatic Society and advising student publications. After 13 years of working at the school, he gave up all of his positions in May 2016 to stay home with his daughter Audrey, who was diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder. He also took time off from pursing a graduate degree.
Now, in May 2018, Hoefner is graduating with his M.F.A. in Creative Writing from SJC Brooklyn. His wife, Executive Director of Student Life Jaime Vacca-Hoefner ’02, will be hooding him at graduation. He also has a play being produced in the New York Theater Festival this summer.
Hoefner also has an M.A. in Educational Theater from NYU.
Part of an SJC legacy family, Hoefner’s mother Helen Craig Hoefner graduated in 1963, and she hooded him in 2000. His grandmother Margaret Wallace Craig graduated in 1931.
Determined Adult Learner
Yae Uchida struggled to find the time to return to school and receive her bachelor’s degree. As a single mom, she put a lot of time and energy into raising her son, now 16, who was diagnosed with dyslexia at 5. She also faced financial instability as a single parent and feared college expenses would make her situation unbearable.
After working for the same company for over 10 years and struggling to get promoted, she returned to school in 2015. But having been away from academia for decades, Uchida felt uncomfortable returning as a nontraditional student.
“My perception of discomfort revealed new practice ground,” she said. “I began
to accept being different. Not only was I getting used to new challenges, but I also started to look for the uncomfortable situation as an opportunity to sharpen my mental strength.”
It wasn’t an easy adjustment, but Uchida learned to become true to herself by “being comfortable with the uncomfortable.” She’s glad she decided to return to school, and now that she’s graduating with a degree in organizational management, she feels ready for new challenges.
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