Saint Leo University was proud to have some nice representation in two long-running St. Patrick's Day parades this past weekend.

The university had a few dozen participants in both the New York City and Savannah, Ga. Parades on Saturday, March 17. This included staff members, faculty, alumni and current students.

Hitting the Streets of New York City

New York City began holding special gatherings on this Irish holiday in 1762. The city has held parades and other festivities in the 256 years since then.

The Hernandez family – two parents and their daughter, Lizette, who are all Saint Leo faculty members –marched in the Big Apple parade.

"We bleed green," says Frank Hernandez, who teaches first-year experience classes as an adjunct in the School of Business. "It was a true honor to walk in this parade and for my wife and I to be named grand marshals. When we found that out the night before, her eyes got a little watery. That's because we're 100% on board with everything Saint Leo represents. We will do whatever we possibly can to make others aware of this school."

An estimated 2 million people turned out for the annual afternoon celebration, making it perhaps the largest single event in the country each year. About 70 members from the Saint Leo community were in the parade. All were decked out in green – ironically Saint Leo's primary school color and that of the holiday – and each person wore a sash. It was the fourth consecutive appearance for Saint Leo.

"This was the second year we were in the parade, and it's always a fantastic opportunity to network with others and make lifelong friendships," says Rachel Hernandez, and adjunct in the School of Education. "We really believe in Saint Leo. It's a family."

She even has an Irish heritage and was thrilled to celebrate it in such a meaningful way.

"I didn't experience lots of culture and tradition until I was older," she confides. "To be there at the parade and live it firsthand is exciting. You really feel it with the bagpipes playing, the Irish dancers and all of the fun going on."

Celebrating in Savannah

Further south, several individuals took part in the festivities in Savannah.

"Representing Saint Leo University on such a joyous occasion was an honor," says Candis Whitfield, the assistant vice president for Saint Leo WorldWide's central region. "It was an amazing day. The crowd responded enthusiastically to our participation, and our interaction with everyone was incredible."

According to Stephanie Stinsky, director of the Savannah Education Center, there were about 24 members of the Saint Leo community in the parade.

"As both a staff member and alumna of Saint Leo, it was a fantastic experience," Stinsky says.

The city of Savannah held some of the earliest St. Patty's Day celebrations and started having a parade for the holiday in 1824.

Diane Washington, a student at the Savannah Education Center who is pursuing her master's in criminal justice with a specialization in critical incident management and legal studies, proudly appeared in the parade.

"As chairman of the student advisory board, I wanted to help lead this effort and represent Saint Leo," Washington says. "It was amazing. I couldn't believe how many people were there, and so many of them were hollering out 'Saint Leo!' at us along the parade route."

In addition to a truck, they had Saint Leo beads to hand out. Plus, U.S. vice president Mike Pence was on hand for the occasion.

"It was pretty mind-blowing knowing I was in the same parade with our vice president," she says. "It felt like quite a momentous occasion."

Washington is a 14-year Air Force veteran who retired as a staff sergeant. Having already earned her associate's in liberal studies and bachelor's in criminal justice from Saint Leo, she couldn't ask for a better university to attend.

 "I started on my first degree there in 2009," she says. "I appreciate everything they have done for me. I love the professors, the informative classes and the one-on-one support I get."

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