After all they’d been through — a global pandemic, remote learning and having to socially distance from all their friends — SJC Long Island’s Class of 2021 didn’t let the threat of rain stop them from celebrating their momentous graduation.
Nearly 800 students — most from the Class of 2021 and some from the Class of 2020 — attended formal commencement ceremonies held at SJC Long Island in Patchogue on Friday, June 4, marking the first time since 2003 that the campus has hosted an entire graduation.
And with four of the day’s seven physically distanced ceremonies taking place outside, students and their guests made the most of the overcast (and wet late afternoon) weather.
“Today’s so special because I’ve worked my whole life to get here,” said Rebecca Vasquez ’21, who graduated with a degree in child study and a concentration in art. “I feel so happy that I’m graduating with something that I’m super passionate about and that I love doing.”
In total, 710 undergraduate students and 356 graduates students earned their degrees as part of SJC Long Island’s and SJC Online’s Class of 2021.*
A Bit of Irony
During his own first year at St. Joseph’s College, President Donald R. Boomgaarden, Ph.D., addressed many members of SJC Long Island’s Class of 2021 for the first time — at their 2017 Orientation (themed “Unmask Your Potential,” and no, we’re not joking), where he encouraged them to be courageous.
“Courage can be learned,” Dr. Boomgaarden had said. “Courage means not taking the counsel of your fears. Take courses, programs, whatever is necessary, challenge yourself each day. Take advantage of your experiences.”
And this group of students — albeit physically masked at commencement due to the lingering status of the pandemic and related state Department of Health regulations — truly took on the challenge and demonstrated their potential, rising up when faced with COVID-19 strife and growing immensely across their time at St. Joseph’s.
“You’ve achieved something wonderful, and it’s been no small task,” Dr. Boomgaarden said at the 10 a.m. ceremony. “You’ve made a dream come true, but you’ve not done it alone. Family, faculty, friends, fans — they were here to support you. This is a day of rejoicing. It’s your last day as a student, but it’s not your last day as a learner.
“While St. Joseph’s never promised we could teach you everything, I hope that we have taught you how to learn anything,” he continued. “And I know over the last year, you have learned a great deal.”
Transfer student Andrew D’Addario ’21 remained as thankful as ever for his decision to switch to SJC Long Island.
“St. Joe’s offered me the best education courses I could ask for,” said D’Addario, who earned a bachelor’s degree in history with a concentration in adolescence education. “When I came here, I felt like I really had more of a purpose. I wanted to pursue a career in education and become a social studies teacher, and St. Joseph’s gave me the ability to do that.”
Noa Benezra ’21, who earned a B.A. in Child Study with a Concentration in English, was excited to finally have the opportunity to connect with her classmates again.
“Getting together with my friends and my family after a really hard year, not being able to be on campus — it just feels great to be able to see my friends again, be with my family next to each other, and just celebrating a really special day,” said Benezra, 22, who thanked her sisters in her sorority Kappa Beta Gamma, as well as her mom, dad, dog, sister and her best friend Rachel.
Friends Melissa Mirabelli ’21 and Tara Baxter ’21, were proud to graduate together. They met as transfer students at St. Joseph’s and supported each other during their paths to commencement.
“This has been the longest and toughest struggle, but we did it,” Mirabelli said.
“We couldn’t have done it without each other,” Baxter added.
Graduates Reflect on SJC Journey
Florence Brennan ’21, an M.S. in Business Management graduate, said her supportive professors helped her complete her education.
“It’s exciting because at this point in my life I am starting anew,” she said. “It allowed me flexibility, the teachers and faculty were wonderful, they allowed me to grow and prosper, to study at my own pace, and to start a new career this late in life.”
Louis Vacca ’21, an MBA in Accounting graduate, was bursting with pride and gratitude for St. Joe’s giving him the opportunity to advance his education.
“Today is special because it’s not every day kids our age are getting master’s degrees,” Vacca said. “It was also exciting for me because it was the first time someone in my family got one. It was a really special moment.”
Kimberly Nazario ’21, who received her master’s degree as a nurse practitioner, said she is ready to use the skills she learned in the classroom to help her future patients.
“It’s been a wonderful three years,” Nazario said. “Just the closeness and the hope — everything I got from St. Joseph’s has been awesome. It’s been a great experience.”
‘You’re now part of my family’
St. Joseph’s Board of Trustees Chair Christopher R. Carroll ’88, Esq., spoke at each of the ceremonies.
“Thirty-three years ago, I sat exactly where you guys are — literally, here in Patchogue,” Carroll said. “You’re now part of my family — a larger St. Joseph’s College family — and that means everything. You guys are going to be wildly successful —and I know that (because) you graduated to St. Joseph’s.
“You’re going to do well,” he continued. “But I’m going to ask you to do good. Because right now, what we need in this world, are more people who are going to do good. Every day, look for an opportunity. Make a difference. Change the world. Do something special.”
Some of the graduates on Friday were part of St. Joseph’s legacy families. Among them were Cara Tromba Giannillo ’89, who watched her daughter Arianna Giannillo ’21 receive her degree in psychology (and whose son Nicholas earned a degree from the College in 2018), and Patricia Morrissey DeCicco ’89, who’s daughter Jackie DeCicco ’21 was part of the 9 a.m. ceremony. There was also St. Joseph’s alumna Kelly Hammer watching her son Josh pick up his degree in political science during the 10 a.m. ceremony.
The Day in Photos
* Note: The number of graduates is as of June 2, 2021.