In a nation torn by AIDS, city violence, and broken families, "This world needs more Satchel Paiges," the nation's top health official told 1,202 graduating students at the University of Maryland at Baltimore yesterday.
Secretary of Health and Human Services Louis W. Sullivan used Paige, the famed black baseball pitcher who labored in the Negro Leagues for 20 years before making the majors, as an example of perseverance in hard times.
"Satchel Paige labored 20 years, and that's what America needs more of: people who will challenge themselves," Dr. Sullivan said. "This world needs more Satchel Paiges."
Paige was a standout in the Negro Leagues between 1926 and 1947, a time when blacks were banned from the majors. In 1948, after becoming something of a folk hero, he broke a color barrier by becoming the first black pitcher in the American League.
Referring to Paige's famous maxim of "Never look back, something might be gaining on you," Dr. Sullivan encouraged the graduates to go out into the troubled world and look for ways to change it.
"Today, we realize there must be a change. A change in our hearts, and a change in our understanding of life," he said. "I challenge each of you graduating today to be a part of that change."
During his speech at the Baltimore Arena, Dr. Sullivan occasionally referred to such issues as the epidemic of acquired immune deficiency syndrome, teen pregnancy and urban violence, all of which he is trying to deal with at the national level.
Dr. Sullivan said that solutions to those problems will come from future leaders who aren't afraid to try different approaches.
"A new cultured character is needed in America," he said. "It's not a tragedy not to reach the stars; the tragedy lies in having no goal to reach."
Of the 1,202 graduates yesterday, 27 received doctorates, 469 received advanced professional degrees, 403 earned master's degrees, and 303 were awarded bachelor's degrees.
As head of the Health and Human Services Department, Dr. Sullivan oversees the federal agency responsible for the nation's major health, welfare, food and drug safety, medical research and income security programs.