SJC Long Island held a Military Graduate Recognition Ceremony last week to congratulate the 37 student veterans expected to graduate in May.
“I couldn’t be more proud to now call you veteran and St. Joseph’s College alum,” said Erin D’Eletto, director of the Office of Military and Veteran Services.
Speakers included Suffolk County American Legion Chaplain Tom Bergin; Director of Radiology and Cardiology at Northwell Health Sergeant Melonie Pernice (Longacre) ’03, M.B.A. ’14; St. Joseph’s President Donald R. Boomgaarden, Ph.D.; Veterans Service Representative for the Department of Veterans Affairs Staff Sergeant Anthony Mannino, Jr., ’19; and Professor of History Steven Fuchs, Ph.D.
The morning of Sept. 11, Pernice sat in class at SJC Long Island. When her professor never showed up, she and her classmates walked to the student lounge to see news of the terrorist attack playing on the television. Pernice knew immediately that she wanted to serve her country.
At her family’s encouragement, she continued her studies, receiving her B.S. in Health Administration before enlisting in the U.S. Army. She served until 2012, becoming an Operation Iraqi Freedom veteran. She then returned to St. Joseph’s, earning her M.B.A. in Health Care Management.
“We’re here today to honor our service members, and to remember the sacrifices they have made and the courage it takes to defend our country,” Pernice said. “Thank you for serving our country, thank you for supporting our country and thank you for attending today. You should be very, very proud to graduate.”
Addressing the audience, Dr. Boomgaarden spoke of his own father, who served in the U.S. Navy for three decades. Although he never got a chance to go to college before enlisting, Dr. Boomgaarden’s dad took correspondence courses while serving in the Navy, later completing his degree during retirement and going on to earn a master’s.
“For a veteran to pursue their degree while in the military, or even as they get out of the military, is an incredible accomplishment,” Dr. Boomgaarden said. “But it also takes incredible discipline and work. I think that it’s a real credit to all of you today that you’ve been able to do this.”
Dr. Boomgaarden then formally bestowed upon the student veterans from the Class of 2019 the red, white and blue military chords: a symbol of their honorable military service and of their academic achievement.
Staff Sgt. Mannino
After returning from the Marine Corps in 2014, Staff Sgt. Mannino started looking for a job when he noticed the many positions open in the field of health care. With a bachelor’s degree in business, he returned to school for a degree in health administration, figuring it would go hand in hand with the administrative background he receive during his time with Marine Corps.
However, as soon as he started at St. Joseph’s, the Marines activated him again as a recruiter. In 2017, he returned to St. Joseph’s to finish earning his E.M.B.A.
“It’s so important to get a degree,” Mannino said. “If I hadn’t been going to school at the time that I interviewed for the VA, I would not be working for the VA. Now that I have my master’s degree, I can go the next step and beyond. I’m grateful for the opportunities that St. Joe’s has given me.
“It’s really changed my life, and it’s given me a chance to be productive on the civilian side,” he continued. “Now, I get to still serve as a part of the VA, and I still get to help veterans, which is something I’m very passionate about.”
Dr. Fuchs, moderator of the Student Veterans of America at SJC Long Island, left the graduating students with a final message.
“Just as I know that St. Joseph’s College has prepared you well for the next step of your journey, I’m equally confident that you have made St. Joseph’s a better place because of your efforts,” he said.