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More than 2,500 St. John's University graduates constituted a sea of red as they gathered Sunday on the Great Lawn, departing with advice from the school's president to spread hope in a world with "great challenges and terrible suffering."
In red gowns and black caps, the students were told to "be bearers of hope" by the Rev. Donald Harrington, St. John's' president, who delivered the commencement address.
Harrington said there were "many challenges and struggles" in the world, pointing to a sputtering global economy, starvation, political turmoil and genocide in Africa, wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, low confidence in America's political leaders and a presidential race that is dividing the electorate.
"Even in the face of these great challenges and terrible suffering, I am optimistic," Harrington told the graduates. "I say to you, 'Be bearers of hope'."
He said that optimism stems from those who "work hard to make the world a better place."
He cited this year's honorary degree recipients — Sr. Anthony Barczykowski, who helped the poor in New Orleans following Hurricane Katrina, and Irving Burgie, the New York performing artist best known for the hit song "Day-O" — as some of those who do good work.
Burgie, who wrote the national anthem of Barbados — his mother's native country — was fighting off tears and quietly waved to the crowd as he received his degree.
Harrington also offered examples from the St. John's student body, noting that many students volunteered at soup kitchens, homeless shelters and visited New Orleans to assist the rebuilding effort.
"If you seek reason for hope, look to your right and look to your left this afternoon," he said. "This is the spirit of St. John's University. This is the spirit of the Class of 2008."
The graduates also heard from Whitney Coleman, a sociology major chosen as the ceremony's student speaker, who advised her classmates to be determined when facing adversity.
"Don't let short-term failures stop you from reaching long-term goals," she said.
Coleman, a Maryland resident and Brooklyn native who said she chose to attend St. John's because of the school's and surrounding community's diversity, also urged the graduates to give back to the university.
"They need your advice, they need your time and we all know they need your money," she said of St. John's underclassmen.
The names of the some 2,500 graduates were read as they received their diplomas on a stage in the front of the Great Lawn. One degree recipient did so in style, shouting "Bingo!" into a nearby microphone and doing a backflip before he exited the stage.
Reach reporter Howard Koplowitz by e-mail at email@example.com or by phone at 718-229-0300, Ext. 173.
©2008 Community Newspaper Group
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