2006-06-07 / Features

St. Guillen Scholarship Winner Is Astoria Native

The John Jay College of Criminal Justice graduate student who was the first recipient of the Imette St. Guillen scholarship is a lifelong resident of Astoria. Johanna King Vespe, 22, was born and raised not far from Steinway Street and still lives in the neighborhood with her parents, Helen and William Vespe, her sister, Bridget, and her brothers, William Jr. and Kevin. She attended the elementary school attached to St. Joseph's Roman Catholic Church and went on to Notre Dame H.S. in Manhattan before doing undergraduate and graduate work at John Jay College of Criminal Justice, also in Manhattan.

Johanna King Vespe (r.), who was awarded the first scholarship named in memory of murdered John Jay College of Criminal Justice graduate student Imette St. Guillen, poses with St. Guillen's mother, Maureen St. Guillen (l.), and sister, Alejandra, at John Jay. Johanna King Vespe (r.), who was awarded the first scholarship named in memory of murdered John Jay College of Criminal Justice graduate student Imette St. Guillen, poses with St. Guillen's mother, Maureen St. Guillen (l.), and sister, Alejandra, at John Jay. Vespe graduated cum laude from John Jay with a bachelor's degree in the study of deviant behavior and social control. She is in the process of attaining a master's of arts degree in criminal justice from John Jay and plans to pursue a doctoral degree in the CUNY/John Jay criminal justice program. She has interned with the New York State Department of Corrections and volunteers with transition services programs aimed at preparing inmates for release. She plans on a career in research and teaching.

"I feel extremely honored to have received this scholarship," Vespe said. "Being a Queens/Astoria native has played a very influential role in my life and academic interests and, hopefully, success. Among other things, being raised with the cultural, racial and ethnic diversity found in Astoria and all of Queens has enabled me to confront challenging and unfamiliar experiences and embrace them. I have learned that an open mind is essential to studying the criminal justice system because humanity, not language, skin, or color is at the center of a just and safe society."

On accepting the scholarship from St. Guillen's mother and sister in a ceremony on Sunday, June 4, Vespe commented: "Although I didn't know Imette, I saw a lot of parallels in our lives-both in our twenties, living in the city and interested in helping others. Through this scholarship and in many other ways, Imette's passion to challenge and change a broken society will not end with her death. Instead, Imette's example and memory will sustain the passion of others dedicated to turning an 'ideal' society, built upon the foundation of justice and humanity, into reality. I hope to be a small part of this legacy."

The Imette St. Guillen Scholarship was created in memory of the young woman for whom it is named, who was murdered in February of this year. St. Guillen, originally from Boston, was a graduate student at John Jay at the time of her death; her accused killer, Darryl Littlejohn, is awaiting trial. The scholarship provides full tuition, a book allowance and a stipend. Major gifts from Jules Kroll, chairman of Kroll Associates, the Rudin Family, Associates for a Better New York, Bear Sterns, the City University of New York, the Daily News, the state Assembly and many John Jay students helped to make the scholarship possible.

"This is a bittersweet moment for the college," John Jay President Jeremy Travis said when the scholarship was presented to Vespe. "The loss of Imette St. Guillen is a tragedy for everyone at the college. However, the scholarship enables us to honor her memory in a very concrete and lasting way."

--Linda J. Wilson

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