John Jay Celebrates Our Graduating Veterans

John Jay Celebrates Our Graduating Veterans

John Jay Celebrates Our Graduating Veterans

At this year’s Veterans Recognition Breakfast, held on May 16, John Jay College proudly celebrated its graduating veterans. With the generous support of T-Mobile, 214 veterans, the largest class of graduating veterans ever in the history of the College, graduated this year. Opening the ceremony, Richard Pusateri, Captain, U.S. Navy retired, Military and Veteran Services Manager, reminded the audience of why this celebration was so special. “We are here this morning to recognize that this is about another level of success for people who have served America honorably from four to almost 30 years in the United States Military,” said Pusateri. “This is about people who have really done well in College; people who made this their mass mission. And, this is about the great ways that they are going to serve after they graduate.”

Supporting Veterans
When the Honorable Loree Sutton, M.D., Brigadier General, U.S. Army retired, and founding Commissioner of New York City’s, Department of Veteran’s Service, took the stage, she gave our student-veterans a round of applause for their service and talked about the support they have right here in New York City. “We have become the first city in the country to create our own agency. We have gone from The Mayor’s Office of Veterans Affairs [MOVA] to The Department of Veterans’ Services [DVS], from four people to 40 people,” she said. “Our department will always remain a small agency by city standards, but we are here for you.” Reiterating the importance of veterans in New York City and around the world, General Sutton, briefly spoke about the history of the U.S. Coast Guard, citing its creation by Alexander Hamilton in 1790, and talked about the amazing achievements veterans are still accomplishing today. “Over 700 of our veteran colleagues from around the country stood up and put their name on the ballot in last year’s midterm—125 of them made the primary, and 16 veterans were voted into Congress. Three were women, doubling the number of women in Congress,” she said. “This is what John Jay College has prepared each of you to do. To be fierce advocates for social justice, to listen to what the world is calling you to do, and then summon the wisdom and courage to do it.”

General Loree Sutton applauding our veterans
General Loree Sutton applauding our veterans

“This is what John Jay College has prepared each of you to do. To be fierce advocates for social justice, to listen to what the world is calling you to do and then summon the wisdom and courage to do it.”—General Loree Sutton

Following General Sutton was John Jay President Karol V. Mason, who highlighted why she looks forward to this celebration every year. “I always love to tell the story about how you guys excel in graduation. You all have some of the highest graduation rates here at John Jay. We are so grateful for your leadership and for teaching other students how to manage the stress that they may have,” she said. “You guys are leaders. You’ve been through wartime stress, and many things that have challenged your abilities, and you have succeeded. Being here at John Jay, you set an example for our students about what leadership looks like and what service looks like. We are grateful for your service here.” Finishing her remarks, President Mason thanked T-Mobile for supporting our student-veterans through scholarships and awards.

President Mason reminding our veterans about their great service
President Mason reminding our veterans about their great service

“Being here at John Jay, you set an example for our students about what leadership looks like and what service looks like. We are grateful for your service here.” —President Karol V. Mason

Forgotten History
Captain Jason Tama, Commander, U.S. Coast Guard Sector New York, Captain of the Port, was the keynote speaker at the event. While he began by telling our student-veterans to enjoy the moments leading up to graduation, he made a point to talk about the history of the Coast Guard. “As Commissioner Sutton said, the Coast Guard was founded in 1790 by Alexander Hamilton down in Federal Hall. Since then, the Coast Guard has been operating out of New York City continuously,” he said. “We had people deploy from New York City during both World Wars for duty in the Atlantic. And, we led the largest maritime evacuation in history from lower Manhattan on September 11, 2001. We have such a rich history here and that’s because New York City is a port city and always has been since it was founded in the 17th Century.” To highlight the importance of this port and veterans’ service, Captain Tama told the audience a forgotten story from World War II.

Captain Tama addressing the room
Captain Tama addressing the room

In the midst of War World II, before D-Day and the outcome of the war was known, the United States conducted air raids in Europe. According to Captain Tama, since New York City was the busiest port in the world, most of the ammunition and troops were deployed from that port. But, one day, after troops had loaded about 1,600 tons of ammunition on the SS El Estero, a fire broke out. “Everyone was afraid about what was going to happen. We had this fire in New York Harbor—imagine the damage that could be done,” he said. “When the alarm came out that there was a fire onboard, the Coast Guard Explosive Detail, about 60 people, ran towards the fire. They ran towards danger.”

He continued with the story, pointing out that even with all their efforts, they couldn’t put out the fire. As a result, the Coast Guard Captain ordered the ship to be pulled out to sea to sink. But, even then, Captain Tama said that there was trouble because the scuttle valves—valves you open to flood the ship and sink it—were in the engine room and because of the fire, the Coast Guard couldn’t get there. “So, they came up with plan B, which was to take the ship to sea as far as they could. Twenty young Coast Guards volunteered to take the ship out, knowing that they would face death. Those 20 personnel handed their personal belongings to their fellow Coast Guards and off they went. They were able to sink the ship off of Robbins Reef which is between Bayonne, New Jersey and Staten Island, New York,” he said. “It’s just a tremendous story of young Coast Guards putting themselves in danger to save the City. It’s a forgotten story, and there are many stories like this playing out all around the world.”

“You never know when you are going to be presented with a challenge, and a time to step up. And, no matter what you are doing, it is going to have a large impact on our society.”—Captain Jason Tama

So why did he tell this story? To reiterate the strength and commitment veterans have and to honor their service. “Coast Guardsmen in the Explosives Detail in Bayonne, New Jersey, weren’t on the front lines. At the time, they were called ‘Subway Sailors.’ They worked behind the scenes with no fanfare and they still stepped up,” said Captain Tama. “Nobody ever expected those folks to be the heroes, but they were. I share that thought for all of us because you never know when you are going to be presented with a challenge, and a time to step up. And, no matter what you are doing, it is going to have a large impact on our society.”

Giving Back
Since 2013, T-Mobile has been a tremendous supporter of our student-veterans, here at John Jay. And, for Michael J. Katz, Executive Vice President for T-Mobile for Business, the mission of supporting veterans is personal. “I've been fortunate in my own life to have a hero who has shaped my life, and it was my grandfather, First Sergeant in the Army, John Katz. My grandfather was an immigrant from Hungary, who immigrated here through Ellis Island. He enlisted in the army as a 32-year-old private in 1942 and joined the 17th Airborne, 194 Glider infantry regiment and fought through Belgium in the Battle of the Bulge. He later fought through Germany as part as Operation Varsity. That unit only stopped with the unconditional surrender of Germany. I’m super proud of my grandfather,” he said. “His strength and courage have always inspired me and given me a deeper appreciation of what our service people have done for our country and have selflessly given so that we can enjoy the freedoms that we have.”

(left to right) Captain Tama, Mason, and Katz
(left to right) Captain Tama, President Mason, and Katz

And, with his grandfather’s story as inspiration, T-Mobile has funded $35,000 in scholarships and awards to our student-veterans and equipped them with tablets and services to further their studies. One of these awards is the T-Mobile Veteran Commencement Award, given out to two students for their service to their country and incredible dedication to their studies and future careers. This year’s recipients were undergraduate student Cassandra Rodriguez ’19, “a native from the Bronx, who served as a machinery technician on active duty in the U.S. Coast Guard. She will be graduating with a 4.0 GPA and completed the requirements for her bachelor’s degree in two years,” said Katz. “And, Charles Bernal ’19, a native from Brooklyn who served in the U.S. Marine Corps in 1997-2017 as an Infantry Rifleman, Infantry Platoon Sergeant and a Recruiter. He will graduate with a Master of Public Administration degree in Public Policy and Administration with dual concentrations in Human Resources Management and Operational Management.” Awards were also given to the SALUTE Veterans National Honor Society Members.

(left to right) President Mason, Katz, Rodriguez and Bernal
(left to right) President Mason, Katz, Rodriguez and Bernal

To close the event, Katz made a very special announcement. “I mentioned that our partnership with John Jay started in 2013, and it’s been a really exciting partnership for T-Mobile, one that we are really proud of. For us service, in particularly military service, we believe is one of the most honorable type of service that an American can take,” said Katz. “And, today I wanted to close by announcing that our commitment to support John Jay through scholarships and awards like the ones we just gave, we are committed to extend out partnership for another two years.”

Richard Pusateri and VP Lynette Cool-Francis with members of the National Honor Society
Richard Pusateri and VP Lynette Cook-Francis with members of the National Honor Society

Excited about their career after graduation, we spoke to several student-veterans to see what this breakfast meant to them.

David BagiroDavid Bagirov ’19
United States Air Force

This breakfast is a gathering for all veterans and a recognition of a lot of dedicated hard work. It honestly feels good to be recognized. The College has been really helpful and I feel really privileged to have a special area designated at the College where we veterans, have a bunch of resources. And to have Richard Pusateri as a guide has been great. After graduation I hope to get appointed by the United States Marshals. My ultimate goal is to keep working for the United States Federal Government, but in an investigative field.

Cassandra RodriguezCassandra Rodriguez ’19
T-Mobile Veteran Commencement Award Recipient (Undergraduate)

United States Coast Guard 

I’ve been coming to John Jay since I was seven, because my father, Felipe Rodriguez, is an adjunct professor in the Department of Law, Police Science and Criminal Justice Administration. Winning this award, shows that my hard work has paid off. Getting a 4.0 GPA wasn’t easy, there were a lot of sleepless nights and missing out on social events, but this moment has shown me that it’s all worth it. I’m looking forward to doing marketing and business development for a private security company called DGA, and coming back to John Jay to get my master’s degree. 

Charles BernalCharles Bernal ’19
T-Mobile Veteran Commencement Award Recipient (Graduate)
United States Marine Corps
2018-2019 President of the Veteran Association at John Jay College 

Being recognized for my achievements while being a student here, has given me the opportunity to feel prouder of what I have done—my accomplishments, my service to the country, and my service to the school’s veterans. I’m going to start working as a human resources manager for Securitas, a private security company here in Manhattan. It’s a good position and I’m excited to start my new career.