The assembly, one facet of St. John’s annual Poverty Education Week, was led by Director of Mission Integration Tom Sipowicz, who encouraged students to contemplate how to meet the needs of others during their remaining time at St. John’s, their formative years at college and beyond. “Apply your great gifts to the world’s great needs.” Before introducing the speakers, Sipowicz briefly profiled seven additional alumni engaged in service careers, including Jillian Griffith ’10, Msgr. John Enzler ’65, Hayter Whitman ’06, Katherine DeStefano ’06, Craig Ruppert ’71, Alezandra Russell ’99 and David Palank ’02.
Kowalewski, director of St. John’s Entrepreneurial Center for Innovation and Social Impact, explained that she had worked for a successful consulting firm, but decided to change her path after attending a lavish work-related reception. “I didn’t want to measure my success by the money I made. I wanted to measure success by the impact I could make,” she said. At the same time Kowalewski was making her decision, she read an article in the Scarlet & Grey about St. John’s new entrepreneurial center and saw a professional opportunity that would enable her not only to give back to the SJC community, but also to cultivate the entrepreneurial spirit of the school. She contacted Principal Chris Themistos about possible opportunities within the program and came on board at the assistant director in fall 2017. In spring 2019, she became the center’s director. Kowalewski encouraged the seniors to think about the lasting impact they will have on this world. “It’s not about what you do, but who you do it for and why.”
Patton, a housing policy analyst advocating for disaster housing recovery reform for the National Law Income Housing Coalition (NLIHC), shared his journey from St. John’s to Capitol Hill. During his time studying political science at McDaniel College, he contacted Bro. Ed Hofmann, FSC, for guidance and support, and Bro. Ed encouraged him to become involved in local activism. Patton went on to earn a degree from the University of Baltimore School of Law and joined the Maryland bar in 2018. He spends the majority of time “being a squeaky wheel” on the Hill, trying to secure government funds for housing recovery and low-income housing residents. “I do this work because I believe those with privilege have a responsibility to move our society toward equity and justice,” he said. Patton encouraged the students to be open to takings steps to solve injustices they encounter in their everyday lives. He also urged them to think about why people are trapped in the cycle of homelessness and poverty.
Street, returning for a third year to speak to SJC seniors, is a consultant for National Community Reinvestment Coalition, where he works with community leaders, policymakers and financial institutions to champion fairness and end discrimination in lending, housing and business. He is also the deputy director of grassroots organizing (Eastern region) for Bread for the World, the country’s leading nonprofit combating hunger and poverty. An associate minister at Mt. Sinai Baptist Church in NW, DC, he also serves as the executive director for P.E.N. (Promote, Enrich and Nurture) DMV, a faith-based nonprofit that specializes in mentoring and social media training for high school students and aspiring leaders living in DC, New York and Paris.
Street shared a story about his time at St. John’s that continues to influence how he lives his life today. During his senior year, he was enrolled in Mr. Lander’s trigonometry class. However, he rarely attended because he didn’t see the value of the content and was distracted by football, college plans and other senior year concerns. By the time May arrived, he knew he would have to speak with Lander to ensure he passed the class. Lander told him, “I don’t know about passing my class, but you survived it.” Street had to face the fact that he was not living up to his potential. “I thought I was thriving, not just surviving,” he said. He encouraged the students to think about “What’s your why? What’s going to make you stand out in a global world?”
Following the presentations, the alumni answered questions from the seniors, including a request to share their next projects. Street is excited to partner with Facebook on a digital citizenship venture that focuses on the leadership skills and character required for responsible social media practices. Patton shared that his next step is securing funds for Puerto Rico’s recovery, and Kowalewski indicated she was excited to move over to the new Center for Performance and Leadership, the Entrepreneurial Center’s new home on campus, later this summer. At the conclusion of the assembly, the students participated in a brainstorming activity during which they identified situations in the world that make them angry or sad and then devised what actions they could take to help solve those injustices.