In a year marking the 50th anniversary of its first cohort of female students, St. Francis College will honor two women as valedictorians at its commencement ceremony on May 23rd.
Dana DiRenzo, the captain of the Women's Basketball Team, earned her MS in Accounting, and Arianna Sartzetakis, a former intern with New York Senator Kirsten Gillibrand, earned a BA in Political Science and Economics. Both are ending their St. Francis careers with perfect 4.0 grade point averages.
Each fall and spring, St. Francis College invites students with the highest GPAs among that semester's graduating seniors to apply to be valedictorian. The honorees are selected based on academic achievements, accomplishments outside the classroom, and on their personal essays.
"This year we had an extraordinary pool of valedictorian candidates," said Dr. Jennifer Lancaster, St. Francis College Vice President of Academic Affairs and Academic Dean. "We decided to award two – one earning her master's degree and one her bachelor's – as a testament to just how strong this graduating class is."
"Not only are Dana and Arianna remarkable students, but they are fully engaged in their service to the St. Francis community and beyond," Dr. Lancaster continued. "We've spent all year commemorating women's contributions to St. Francis as we celebrate the fiftieth anniversary of the college becoming co-educational. It's a fitting capstone that two women earned valedictorian honors."
Joining DiRenzo and Sartzetakis on the commencement stage is another exemplary graduating woman, Amal Hawari, who will be the ceremony's welcome speaker. A transfer student, Hawari earned a perfect GPA in her St. Francis coursework and has been active in student activities during her time here.
More information on all three women is below.
Dana DiRenzo (BS/MS Accounting)
Valedictorian is not a new honor for the two-time Women's Basketball Team Captain. Four years ago, DiRenzo earned the same title from her alma mater, St. Joseph High School in her hometown of Hammonton, New Jersey.
"It was always a goal of mine [to be SFC valedictorian]" said DiRenzo. "When my [SFC] basketball coach [John Thurston] was recruiting me, he said 'I'm going to offer you a scholarship, but you have to make sure you finish as valedictorian.'"
DiRenzo's stand-out St. Francis career is marked by achievements on and off the basketball court, where she played on the varsity team all four years. Last month, SFC named her the 2018-19 Scholar Athlete of Year. The Student Athletic Advisory Committee elected her its Treasurer for two years. And she served as the Vice President of the Duns Scotus Honor Society.
Having arrived at St. Francis without a major in mind, DiRenzo said she quickly found her academic home in Accounting. "The Accounting department is so great, I'm so glad I went that route here" said DiRenzo. "Professor [John] Lombardo has been the greatest mentor...he taught my first Accounting class." DiRenzo completed the five year BS/MS combined degree in four years. "I've always liked academics because it's something that I knew I could control...There was no real excuse for not doing the best that I could."
While she plans to pursue a career that may lead to the corner office, the basketball court will likely come first. "I would really like to play overseas next year," DiRenzo said. "But then after that I want to get my CPA and then I was thinking about law school."
Arianna Sartzetakis (BA, Political Science and Economics)
Arianna Sartzetakis isn't afraid of taking a seat at the head of the table.
The Bay Ridge, Brooklyn native has carved out a track record of leadership and service during her four years at St. Francis. After joining student government in her first year, she took on increasingly bigger roles over the next three, becoming the Treasurer of the Student Government Association in her sophomore year, Speaker of Student Activities Counsel of Representatives in her junior year and President of the Student Government Association senior year. She served as President of the Duns Scotus Honor Society that year, too, the first SFC female student to hold both offices simultaneously, and the first SFC student to hold both those positions and earn valedictorian honors.
"I've been very grateful to work with almost every student leader over the past four years," said Sartzetakis, who plans to pursue a career in finance. "I wasn't able to get where [I am] without looking up to other people and asking the right questions."
Sartzetakis, who entered St. Francis as an endowed scholar, has paid special attention to supporting women during her college career.
She started a St. Francis chapter of Girl Up, part of the United Nations Foundation which advocates for girls' leadership opportunities in countries around the globe. As part of its student advisory panel, Sartzetakis was one of the founding members of the Women's Leadership Network (WLN), a SFC affinity group formed in 2016 that connects accomplished women alumnae with students to provide mentoring and role modeling. She interned in the New York City office of Senator Kirsten Gillibrand, now a U.S. Presidential candidate
"I always say...women support women... you really need to make sure that you're not only lifting yourself up, but others [too]."
Sartzetakis' enthusiasm to engage with her community doesn't end at the doors of St. Francis. She started a blog and Instagram account, Uncover More, that functions as an online concierge to recommend inexpensive activities, from fitness classes to art openings, around New York City. It grew from passion project into a small business that earned her first place in this year's St. Francis College Entrepreneurial Pop Up Showcase.
When it comes to advice for incoming SFC students, Sartzetakis said the key is to find what interests you and then get involved. "Everything is really what you make of it...Your time is not the same if you're not involved. Find something [here] that you love to do."
Amal Hawari (BA, Communications Arts)
Amal Hawari didn't start her college career at St. Francis College, but took every advantage St. Francis offered to finish it here with flying colors.
Hawari, who emigrated from Venezuela at age four and was raised in Queens, started coursework at SFC in January 2018, having already earned her associate's degree in advertising and marketing at the Fashion Institute of Technology (FIT). She dove head first into life at SFC.
"I immediately got involved with Terrier TV [as its social media coordinator]" said Hawari, who aims to work in the creative side of marketing after graduation. That position led to her representing SFC at the October 2018 College Broadcasters, Inc. (CBI) conference in Seattle, delivering a presentation about social media's role in marketing media brands. She also interns with Group Nine Media, an online publishing media company, arranging social-media advertising for its online properties including The Dodo, Thrillist, NowThis News, and Seeker.
Hawari is quick to point out that SFC's academics provided more than just career preparation. "While I'm grateful for what I learned in my FIT Marketing classes, it was nice to step away from my own major once I transferred into SFC. I especially loved my philosophy and Survey of the World's Religions classes, because they covered all religions around the world. For someone who aspires to travel the whole world and loves learning about different languages and cultures, these classes really expanded my knowledge beyond my major. They help cultivate more well-rounded college students."
As a first-generation immigrant college student, Hawari is particularly grateful for the honor she received as St. Francis' graduation welcome speaker. "It's more than an honor. It's also... a [type of] gratitude towards my parents and just everything that life has brought to me. It's a great humbling reminder to never forget where you come from."