By Tim Harfmann
Decked out in their caps and gowns, nearly 2,300 graduates walked across the stage at St. John’s University on Sunday, May 19th. It was the largest graduating class in three decades. Derrell Bouknight was part of the class. He had an outstanding college career at the university. The journalism major received his diploma in three-and-a-half years, while posting a 3.84 grade point average. Bouknight was deeply involved in many journalism-related activities at school and earned the dean’s award. Besides his success in the classroom, he achieved an even greater success in life. “I wasn’t Catholic, but I was so invested and so interested in learning about the faith,” said Bouknight.
The 22-year-old was raised in Washington, D.C. and grew up a Baptist. When he arrived at St. John’s, Bouknight experienced a transformation; “To be honest, I didn’t know if it was possible to change your religion or become Catholic or convert from religion to another.”
Bouknight was attending a campus Mass when he learned about the Catholic Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults – known as R.C.I.A. After eight months of preparation, he was confirmed a Catholic, receiving the gifts of the Holy Spirit through Sacred Chrism Oil. “Bishop [Octavio] Cisneros took the oil and anointed me, put it on my forehead. Without St. John’s and the RCIA program here, I wouldn’t have been able to fulfill one of my dreams — which was to learn about the faith and actually live it out,” said Bouknight, who also credited his girlfriend, Maggie Moore, for supporting his decision. Moore also graduated on May 19th and was Bouknight’s sponsor at his confirmation. “I said, ‘you know it’s your choice, obviously. I will support you and be here for you if you choose to. If not, we can still remain friends and I will not think of you any differently. But he decided to do it,” said Moore.
Staying true to the faith is a challenge for some of their peers. According to a study by CARA — the Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate — fewer than two-thirds of millennials, raised as Catholics, remain so as adults. Brooklyn’s Bishop Nicholas DiMarzio praised St. John’s for making faith a crucial part of the school’s curriculum; “It is giving the Catholic values in all of its courses, with its teachers and its theology; so it’s a very positive atmosphere that supports the faith.” Bishop DiMarzio delivered the invocation at the commencement.
As for Bouknight and Moore, he’s starting his journalism career as a CBS news associate, with an eye on eventually becoming a sports broadcaster. She’s hoping to teach history and will go for her master’s degree at New York University. Bouknight said their Catholic faith is the driving force in their lives; “I believe everybody has some sort of inner calling or inner spirituality.”