Graduates given a call to arms Fight for what's right, speakers urge

May 24, 1993|By Joan Jacobson and Mark Guidera | Joan Jacobson and Mark Guidera,Staff Writers Staff writer William Thompson contributed to this article.

Thousands of college students across the state received their degrees yesterday and were challenged by commencement speakers to confront the nation's troubles by becoming freedom fighters for civil rights and defenders of the sick and hungry.

At Morgan State University, Benjamin F. Chavis Jr., the new executive director of the NAACP, urged 800 graduates at the school's football stadium to "uplift the downtrodden people, the brothers and sisters who have been victims of racial discrimination."

At the Johns Hopkins University School of Hygiene and Public Health, Dr. Joycelyn Elders, President Clinton's nominee for U.S. surgeon general, told graduates they must convince politicians that disease prevention is the future of U.S. health care -- especially for children who are being treated like "biodegradeable trash."

And Bea Gaddy, an advocate for the homeless in Baltimore, was given an honorary doctorate in humane letters by Towson State University yesterday evening following a standing ovation in the Towson Center. She urged graduates "not to live secluded and self-contained lives" but to reach out to meaningfully help society's needy.

Johns Hopkins

Dr. Elders, a pediatric endocrinologist who is the Arkansas state health director, said the graduate students must persuade the "power brokers" of this country to attack the problems of poverty, overpopulation and pollution.

She condemned previous U.S. health policy for relegating too many children to poverty and spending too much on the dying and not enough on nutrition and disease prevention.

By 2030, "40 percent of children born in America will be poor," she told the 338 graduates, who come from 47 foreign countries and the United States.

"We are throwing our children away. Who is going to take care of us when we're 85 -- the same children we're throwing away?" she said.

She also warned that it won't be easy convincing the "power brokers" that disease prevention is the key to solving health problems.

"Politicians [won't] buy prevention because they won't get brownie points next week. It can take 10 years to see the effect," she said.

Morgan State University

Mr. Chavis told graduates how his father gave him a membership card for the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People when he was 12 years old.

The card inspired him to go to the whites-only public library for a book that still had both covers attached.

When he asked whether he could take out the book, the librarian "called the police."

His parents arrived -- along with the police -- and "my mother and father stuck with me and we integrated the local library. That night I could hardly sleep. I was fired up," he said.

Years later, Mr. Chavis spent 4 1/2 years in a North Carolina prison following a civil rights demonstration. His conviction was later overturned.

Yesterday, he urged Morgan graduates to choose their life goals wisely and said that although the civil rights movement has made progress, there is "still . . . a mighty long way to go."

"Be freedom fighters," he told them.

Towson State University

Towson's graduates received degrees in afternoon and evening ceremonies.

In the early session, among the 2,055 students receiving degrees was Ann S. Griffiths, who received her master's in liberal arts at the age of 80.

"The whole experience has been very stimulating, and I've made lot of new friends, but I am glad it's over," she said as she prepared to join the procession of graduates thronging the Towson Center.

With bachelor's and master's degrees to her credit, Mrs. Griffiths said her new goal is to become a political speech writer, "preferably at the congressional level."

She wasn't certain how she would approach the job market, but she has considered "just offering my services for free" to a candidate.

The Towson resident said she decided to embark on a college education about seven years ago, after her husband died.

A graduate of Eastern High School, she had dreamed of attending Goucher College and discovered the college had a program for adults who had been out of school for more than five years.

Mrs. Griffiths graduated with honors from Goucher with a degree in political science and was admitted to Phi Beta Kappa.

"I guess I get a lot of attention because of my age. But I've found age does not have to be a bar to anything. It's never to late for learning," Mrs. Griffiths said.

"One thing I've come to like is the fact that I'm sort of a role model for people that you don't have to just sit around when you get old. You can participate in life."

UMBC

At the University of Maryland Baltimore County's commencement, more than 1,600 graduates -- including the first six participants in the Meyerhoff Program, which financially assists black students gifted in science or math -- received degrees at the Baltimore Arena.

Among the six Meyerhoff graduates was Eric Brown of Anne Arundel County, who had planned to attend Stanford on a partial scholarship before being wooed to UMBC.

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