Generations of Blue Streaks: The Value of John Carroll’s Legacy Community


Kathleen Mackey, The Carroll News

For a legacy student — that is, someone with a family member who attended John Carroll before them — stepping on John Carroll’s campus for the first time is especially significant. They can envision their relatives walking the same campus, living in the same dorm halls and taking part in the same Carroll traditions that formed lifelong memories. 

Part of what makes a college experience so rich and memorable is the community it’s built upon, and one pocket of the Carroll community that makes it so tight-knit is its legacies. With about 30% of John Carroll’s undergrad population in that group, it means many students carry a JCU history with them that connects multiple generations. 

Brothers and alumni Steve (‘95) and Dave (‘00) Vitatoe have worked closely with the legacy community through their roles at Carroll and have witnessed its impact on a prospective student’s decision process and experience at Carroll. 

Steve, now the Assistant Vice President for Enrollment and Analytics, explained that being a legacy means having any sort of family connection. For some, it could be an aunt, cousin or grandparent. However, he noted the strong number of parent/child legacies at Carroll. 

Dave, Executive Director of Alumni Relations, explained how this broad definition of legacies emphasizes how special a family connection can be to a prospective student. 

“If you have any family member that has influence over your college search process, it’s just different than a friend or neighbor or high school counselor saying, ‘Hey, look at John Carroll,’” Dave said. “When family does it, there’s a little more weight to that, and I think that’s how we define ‘legacy.’”

Dave echoed the sentiment that many students and alumni express about John Carroll’s community feeling like a family. When a prospective student is able to see that family-like bond through the lens of their own relatives, it creates a very special dual meaning, Dave explained. 

Ranging from students who graduated a year ago to 40 years ago, the alumni community is filled with a willingness and enthusiasm to carry forth the passion and tradition of John Carroll. Much of that lifelong dedication among the alumni community is deeply rooted within John Carroll’s legacies. 

“The family and alumni are so dedicated, supportive and committed to this institution and are willing to help in any way that they can,” Steve said. “They care, and they are interested. They want to know what’s happening. They want to know how they can help.”

Dave agreed with his brother, referencing his own personal experiences of working at a large state school as well as another Jesuit institution prior to returning to JCU. 

“I always talk about what distinguishes John Carroll at events I speak at and Celebration Day, and I agree,” Dave said. Elsewhere, he added, “I don’t see this level of support, dedication and enthusiasm for an alma mater like we do at John Carroll. It’s rare.”

Every legacy student’s history is unique and has its own special story. Molly Killeen (‘20) is a fourth-generation JCU legacy, surrounded by a family of proud Carroll alumni. With graduates ranging from her great-grandfather, to aunts, uncles and even Carroll Couple parents, Blue Streak pride is in her blood. 

“Ever since I can remember, John Carroll has been a large part of my life. I have many fleeting memories from when I was growing up of running through the quad and the archways of John Carroll with my parents. Since I live close to John Carroll, my parents would take my sisters and I to campus frequently,” Killeen said. “Over the years, I heard many, many John Carroll stories. My family talked extremely highly of John Carroll and the memories that they created there. Since my family’s John Carroll history goes back so far, JCU was always something special everyone in my family that went there could share.” 

Parents Kevin Killeen (’93) and Beth Campbell Killeen (’94) take Molly on one the first of her many visits to John Carroll. (Photo courtesy of Molly Killeen)

While Killeen had a unique exposure to the school early in her life, having a family connection wasn’t the deciding factor for her. Instead, she refers to it as an incredibly special added bonus. After touring the campus and meeting the people at Carroll, Killeen felt assured that it was the perfect place to grow and learn. 

“I believe I would have still chosen John Carroll even if I were not a fourth-generation legacy, because of John Carroll’s mission,” Killeen said. 

During the decision process, her family encouraged her to choose the school that she felt most connected to, but they were most definitely thrilled to learn that JCU was the home she chose. 

Molly enjoys a nice sunny day on campus with her parents and younger sister, Sara Killeen. (Photo courtesy of Molly Killeen).

“My grandpa called me, singing the John Carroll Alma Mater, when I decided to attend Carroll, so I knew they were secretly rooting for me to attend,” Killeen shared. 

Since attending Carroll for four years, Killeen has made a path of her own and cultivated experiences unique to her. Immersing herself in all Carroll has to offer has added a new meaning to famous phrases she’s grown up hearing, including “Onward, on,” “Carroll Couple” and “Men and Women For and With Others.”

“Suddenly, these simple phrases I grew up hearing have a whole new meaning for me,” Killeen said. “They are meaningful phrases I have learned about, and from now on I can share in the special John Carroll traditions that my family is part of.”

Furthermore, attending Carroll has given Killeen a newfound bond with her family members, connecting her to the past generations that walked the same campus decades ago.

“I never met my Great-Grandpa Ernie Killeen, but it is special that I get to share something with him, even if it was a 50-year difference and we never had the chance to meet,” Killeen said. 

After graduating on May 17, Killeen herself will be the next addition to a family full of proud alumni and will undoubtedly carry on the passion that they have all shared for years before her. 

“Over the past few years, I frequently found myself walking through campus, sitting on the quad, taking part in a John Carroll tradition and thinking about how incredibly blessed I am that many of my family members also walked through campus, sat on the quad and took part in John Carroll traditions,” Killeen said. “It is hard to put what that means into words for me, because it is such a special thing to be able to have generations of my family able to experience the magic of John Carroll.”