Hometown: Shamong, NJ
EMBA Program, Class of 2011
A director of information technology might make for an unlikely hero. But heroic, a word too strong for Michael Sokorai when he hears it, is how staff and classmates consider this graduate student’s actions during the group’s recent visit to Japan.
Sokorai, who will graduate from Saint Joseph’s University with an Executive Master’s in Business Administration (EMBA) on May 14, was one of 36 students, two administrators, and two faculty members on a study abroad tour of Asia when the tragic 9.0 earthquake struck Japan on March 11. Sokorai and his classmates, in Tokyo at the time, spent the next two days trying to survive amid the chaos around them as they figured how to get home.
“Mike maintained a great level of awareness, calm determination and cura personalis during the recent crisis in Japan,” explained Terese Waldron, EMBA director who accompanied the students. When the group was finally able to check out of the Grand Prince Akasaka Hotel in Tokyo on Saturday, March 12, Sokorai was sympathetic to those who were left behind in the hotel's lobby.
“He, along with a classmate, began collecting unused breakfast vouchers from EMBA students to share with those in the hotel lobby who were stranded,” said Waldron. “I had to hustle him onto the bus. He was one of the final EMBA students to get on board.”
The return flight took two days and included a layover in Los Angeles. By the time Sokorai returned to his home in Shamong, N.J., he was jet-lagged and emotionally exhausted.
His wife Stephanie ’97 greeted him at the airport. “As soon as he told me his flight took off from Japan, I felt the stress melt away,” she said. “But I was still concerned about our son Keegan (7) who missed his dad and could sense that something wasn't right,” even though she kept the boy away from the television as much as possible.
Early the next morning, the young father awoke to the couple’s three children – Keegan (7), Declan (5) and Fiona (2) – sitting on his head, singing: “You’re home, you’re home!”
The family had little time together before a reporter with The Burlington County Times visited Sokorai to interview him about the experience. He talked with the reporter and shared his concern for the people in Japan. “It’s been horrible for these people,” he said. Sokorai also expressed gratitude for his company, Defense Support Services where he heads IT, who offered prayers and support to his family while he was away. His wife, Stephanie, spoke of the support of the SJU community where the couple both earned undergraduate degrees.
When asked about his original decision to attend Saint Joseph’s, Sokorai says that at 18, he wasn’t sold on attending the University. “Originally, I planned to go somewhere else,” he explained. A conversation with his assistant principal, John Gibson, at Middle Township High School in Cape May Courthouse in N.J. changed his mind. “Things always have a special way of working out for good people,” Gibson explained to the reluctant college prospect.
Looking back on his experiences at the University, Sokorai says that the decision to attend Saint Joseph’s was the best choice he has ever made. It was here that he met his wife, his best friends, furthered his education, and secured his career in IT. Perhaps Gibson was right: things do have a way of working out for good people.