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SJU raises millions for scholarships at dinner

St. John’s University raised a record $2.25 million for need-based student scholarships at its annual President’s Dinner, during which school officials honored city Police Commissioner Ray Kelly for what they said was a lifetime of service.

“I know how much St. John’s contributes to this city, and those who love New York should be proud of the university for its vitality and sustainability here in our great city,” said Kelly, who graduated from the St. John’s School of Law in 1971. “To be recognized by St. John’s is tremendously fulfilling and a high honor for me.”

More than 1,000 people attended the 13th-annual gala held Oct. 29 in the ballroom of the Waldorf-Astoria, and WNBC-TV lead sports anchor Bruce Beck served as the master of ceremonies.

“St. John’s students aren’t just educated academically,” Beck said. “Students can learn history or English or math at any other college or university. But if they want to learn to be a good person in the truest sense of the word, if they’re willing to accept the challenge to care about others, not because they have to, but because they want to, they’ve got to go to St. John’s.”

Alongside Kelly, St. John’s also gave Spirit of Service Awards to Paul J. Evanson, an alumnus who is now the chairman, president and CEO of Allegheny Energy, and Mary Ann Mattone, a longtime community advocate who has held a variety of positions that support institutions and people in Queens, including being a trustee of the Queens Borough Public Library.

She works to promote scholarships for children in Queens, and in 2009 she was confirmed by Pope Benedict XVI to receive knighthood in the order of St. Gregory the Great for her efforts on behalf of the less fortunate.

“I thank our honorees for allowing us to honor them,” said St. John’s President Donald J. Harrington, who served as host for the evening. “Each in their own way is an important part of our university. Each in their own way is firmly committed to making our world a better place and to assisting and serving those most in need.”

School officials said they were thrilled to raise $2.25 million during the evening — making this year’s dinner the most successful in the event’s history — and said the money will go directly to students who most need help paying their tuition.

Robert D. Wile, vice president, chief of staff and chief advancement officer at St. John’s, said the school greatly appreciates the help, especially since 50 percent of its students were deemed eligible for Pell grants, which the federal government issues to the students most in need of financial aid.

“Over the past two years, we have seen that there has been an incredible amount of support from our strongest donors,” Wile said. “They understand the nature of fund-raising and see the need to step up their giving in bad economic times and they have done just that.”

Reach reporter Anna Gustafson by e-mail at agustafson@cnglocal.com or by phone at 718-260-4574.

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