Drink mogul speaks at SJU

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The St. John’s University graduate who crated a multibillion-dollar beverage company returned to his alma mater Sunday to impart three nuggets of simple wisdom to the class of 2011.

Michael Repole, the founder of the company that produces Vitaminwater, gave the commencement address to roughly 2,800 graduates and 20,000 spectators who sat through the intermittent drizzle on the university’s lawn shortly after he was given an honorary doctorate in commercial sciences.

“There’s something about ‘Doc’ Mike Repole that doesn’t sound right just now,” he said with a self-deprecating humor that would characterize much of his speech. “Does this mean I get to prescribe my own medication?”

Repole was honored for his quick ascent into success, but the university also awarded a St. John’s legend with the St. Vincent de Paul Medal.

Lou Carnesecca have served the university for 50 years as the longtime basketball coach and later assistant to the president.

Carnesecca was retiring from his storied coaching career around the same time Repole was getting his degree.

Repole graduated from St. John’s 20 years earlier with a degree in sports administration, although according to the entrepreneur, he was not the best student.

“I’m also glad there was not a background check or a look into my transcripts,” he said.

Repole graduated with a 2.0 grade-point average, but nevertheless joined the ranks of entrepreneurs, like dropouts Steve Jobs, Richard Branson and Bill Gates, who seemed to have found far more success outside the classroom.

And Repole stressed that students’ post-graduation lives will not be graded or scored.

“If you are that 2.0 student, never give up — anything is possible,” he said.

In fact, Repole had very blunt advice for people who would try and say otherwise.

“Tell them to bleep bleep,” he said, clarifying he did not want to swear on stage. “With the father, the bishop and the clouds — I was worried about lightning.”

Repole kept his other pieces of advice simple as well, because as he put it, “because I have ADD.”

He urged the graduates to have fun and savor the moment, to think big and dream bigger and finally to share their success.

Carnesecca did not give a speech, but to many his career speaks for itself.

He brought St. John’s into the national spotlight with a 526-200 record, five National Invitation Tournament championships, two Big East championships and also appeared in a 1985 Final Four tournament.

“Every university has its giants — legendary figures who leave an indelible mark on the institution itself,” said Professor John Greg. “For St. John’s University, Louis Carnesecca — ‘Lou,’ as he is universally known — is such a man.”

The 2,800 students were honored as well, although some were wary about life after graduation.

“I’m really nervous,” said Krisy Insignares, who graduated with a degree in legal studies. “If I can’t find a job, my plan is to go back to school.”

Reach reporter Joe Anuta by e-mail at or by phone at 718-260-4566.

Editor's note: Corrected commencement speaker's name.

Updated 10:49 am, October 12, 2011
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