Number of graduates
St. Joseph's College conferred 1,120 degrees -- 900 undergraduate and 220 graduate degrees -- to students from its Patchogue campus at its commencement ceremony Tuesday, held at Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum.
Keynote commencement speaker
Randi Shubin Dresner, president and chief executive of Island Harvest, has led Long Island's largest hunger-relief organization since 2001. Last year, the nonprofit collected and distributed more than 9 million meals. Dresner received an honorary doctor of laws degree.
Speaking of superstorm Sandy's effects and the outpouring of support to help the storm's victims, Dresner cited St. Joseph's tradition of esse non videre -- that is, "to be -- rather than to seem." "This speaks to our integrity, our values and to being authentic, about 'being and not just appearing to be something or someone you are not,' " she said. "I am honored to share St. Joseph's belief in service learning, giving back and touching lives. Oddly enough, all of these have become a lifetime mantra for me, and I would encourage you to consider the same. There is no better satisfaction than helping someone else. Life is really about the journey, not the destination. I am sure your life's journey will be an intricate map of many winding roads. Most are."
Brian D. Hicks, 22, of West Babylon, received his bachelor's degree in English. Hicks also was president of St. Joseph's chapter of Sigma Tau Delta, the International English Honor Society, and a member of three other international academic and service honor societies -- Sigma Iota Chi, Kappa Gamma Pi and Delta Epsilon Sigma.
Hicks used a real-life story to illustrate a life lesson for fellow graduates: "I have a friend at work who told me a story the other day. Whenever she goes into the city, she makes sure to carry $15 worth of quarters with her. This way, when she sees someone playing music on a street corner or just sitting with a sign asking for help, she can give those people something. And I wanted to ask her, 'But what if they're scammers?' I didn't, because I've known her long enough to know that she would have said, 'But what if they aren't?' She said, and this is a direct quote from one of the graduates with us today, 'No matter how bad I think I have it, I know that someone out there has it worse.' As she so astutely pointed out, service isn't about making your life harder; it's about making someone else's life a little bit easier."
Valedictorian of the School of Professional and Graduate Studies
Melissa Feraca, 42, of Oakdale, received her bachelor's degree in nursing. Feraca, a mother of four who works as an intensive-care-unit nurse at Huntington Hospital, plans to return to college in fall 2014 for a master's degree in a health-care specialty.
"I would like to part with one piece of advice," she told graduates. "When it comes to life's unexplainable moments, be brave enough to admit you don't know, be willing to accept you may never find out ... but be clever enough to take something from every experience, and with these pieces, or dots, form your path forward through the journey of your life."
Danielle Burney, 24, of Coram
bachelor's degree in psychology
"Overall it was just a great experience," Burney said of her years at St. Joseph's. "The teachers really care about you. They're there to help you, and they really go the distance in making sure that you're getting the education that you deserve." Burney, the first in her immediate family to achieve a bachelor's degree, said she knew even before graduating William Floyd High School that psychology would be her field of study in college. She now works at a company that helps people with traumatic brain injury, she said, and will have a position as a behavioral specialist, helping people who have sustained such injuries deal with impulse control and other issues.
Christina Passarella, 22, of Ronkonkoma
bachelor's degree in criminal justice
"I think the community at St. Joseph's -- the teachers especially -- everyone is really warm and welcoming. You have those certain teachers who help you to grow, and they take the time to get to know you as a person," Passarella said. She singled out criminal justice professors Elenice Oliveira and Barbara Morrell as "specific teachers who were there for me." Passarella, who had minors in both business and art history, plans to take the LSAT this fall and go on to law school. At St. Joseph's, she said, "I felt like I was learning a lot more than I thought I would have learned. Everything fell into place."
Arthur Gunston, 31, of Centereach
master's of business administration
The college's specialized executive MBA program, which focuses on management skills, was right on target for his needs, said Gunston, who earned his bachelor's degree in accounting at St. Joseph's in 2005 and already is a certified public accountant. He praised business professor Eileen Jahn as "really inspirational" in her teaching of the "capstone course," the final course of the MBA program, and graduate management studies director Mary Chance as "incredibly instrumental in keeping me on track." Gunston, the first in his extended family to earn either a bachelor's or a master's degree, is assistant controller of a Hauppauge corporation. He said he intends to use his MBA "to further my growth as a management professional" and he also wants to teach as a part-time adjunct at a local college.
Allison Fabrizio, 21, of Islip
bachelor's degree in history
St. Joseph's "offered good professors and good courses to help me to go on to graduate school," said Fabrizio, who minored in art history and has a personal affinity for modern American art. "I'm going to get my graduate degree at City College of New York, for museum studies. . . . I would love to intern at the Met [Metropolitan Museum of Art] or at a smaller art gallery." She singled out history professor Steven Fuchs for his help with her thesis and for counseling her on her future.
Kenneth Sweeney, 29, of Holbrook
bachelor's degree in business administration
Sweeney said he is putting his degree to immediate use as he starts his own business, a pool-service company based in Holbrook. "Starting a business the first couple of years -- there are a lot of start-up costs, buying equipment and a lot of things. The courses I took at St. Joe's -- marketing, entrepreneurship, accounting, financing -- I'm already putting them to use." Sweeney, who transferred to St. Joseph's after two years at Suffolk County Community College, said it was "very helpful" that St. Joseph's gave him the maximum number of credits from courses taken at SCCC. "I have only wonderful things to say about the college," he said of St. Joseph's. "The professors are always there for you. It's a small campus, so you get to know the professors on a more personal basis."