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St. John’s class of 2010 looks to the future

The great lawn on St. John’s University’s Jamaica campus turned bright red Sunday as more than 2,600 young adults celebrated their graduation.

Warm weather and clear skies added to the festive air on the lawn of the school where the students and their families gathered to mark the rite of passage. Despite facing the challenge of launching a career in a rough economy, many graduates said they were happy to move on to the next stage of their lives and were proud of their time at the second-largest Catholic university in the country.

“It was excellent,” Robert Tromp, 22, a Flushing student who earned his B.A. in politics, said of his St. John’s experience. “The professors and the atmosphere were great.”

All of the university’s colleges except for the law school were represented in the massive ceremony and students from each of the institutions showed their pride´╗┐ during the opening march to their seats by proudly walking behind their class banners and cheering when their names were called.

Adrianne Ritota, a Rhode Island native who currently lives in East Elmhurst, earned a master’s degree from the School of Education’s Non Public School Leadership program and said her studies had helped her go far.

The 33-year-old, who had earlier obtained a master’s degree in teaching from Columbia University, said her teachers had a good camaraderie with her as well as her classmates and always left their doors open.

“I had a better experience here than at Columbia,” said Ritota, who landed a teaching job at a school in Long Island.

Not everyone was as quick to get a job as Ritota.

Raini Hughes said her 26-year-old daughter, Adrienne, was still looking for a position that would best fit her school counseling master’s degree. The Howard Beach mother said it was tough because not too many companies and organizations were hiring, but was confident her daughter and other graduates would persevere.

“You got to have confidence,” she said.

The ceremony’s speakers also conveyed this message of hope.

Former NBC/Universal Chief Executive Officer Bob Wright and his wife, Suzanne, who co-founded the nonprofit group Autism Speaks, reflected at how they were able to turn a personal setback into something positive and give back to the world. In 2004, the Wrights found out their grandson, Christian, was diagnosed with the neurobiological disorder and did not take no for an answer when physicians said they could not do anything for the boy.

“We could accept what the medical community told us or we could do something about it. We decided to stand up and fight,” Suzanne Wright said.

A year after the diagnosis, the couple set up the nonprofit that not only raises awareness about the condition but also raises money for research on treatment. Bob Wright told the students to follow their dreams and do their part to make the world a better place.

“All that hard work has prepared you for the world of tomorrow,” he said.

The university’s student speaker, Hadia Sheerazi, shared her own personal experience in her speech to uplift her fellow “Johnnies.” The immigrant from Pakistan became teary-eyed when she recalled moving to Queens and being overwhelmed but at the same time amazed with the learning possibilities in New York City.

The student, whose family was watching the ceremony from an Internet video feed, said her friends and professors at the school helped her to achieve so much and develop into a confident adult.

“I truly believe that college is not about finding yourself, it is about becoming yourself,” she said.

Reach reporter Ivan Pereira by e-mail at ipereira@cnglocal.com or by phone at 718-260-4546.

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