'Values' stressed to Hopkins graduates

May 25, 1993|By C. Fraser Smith | C. Fraser Smith,Staff Writer

The German statesman whose own father became ensnared in Nazism and a moviemaker who found universal truths in Baltimore neighborhoods told graduates of the Johns Hopkins University yesterday that hope for humankind resides in individual values.

"All our experience teaches us that domestic issues have an overwhelming influence on foreign policy," said Richard von Weizsaecker, the 73-year-old president of Germany. "It is first and foremost at home that we need a clear orientation of where we want to go."

And Barry Levinson, who celebrated his hometown in "Diner," "Tin Men" and "Avalon," warned his audience to avoid being "consumed with consuming." A glance at the 24-hour televised shopping network shows many Americans are so consumed.

"Who is the person who at a quarter to 4 in the morning says, 'You know, I need a bracelet.'

"We must buy something. There must be something we need. We're not sure what it is but we know we need things," he said.

Mr. Weizsaecker and Mr. Levinson spoke, respectively, at morning and afternoon exercises held yesterday at the university's Homewood Campus. The honorary degree of Doctor of Humane Letters was conferred upon both.

In all, Hopkins awarded 3,974 degrees.

Graduation ceremonies were also held yesterday at the Maryland Institute College of Art, where the master of fine arts degree was awarded to 30 students; the master of fine arts in teaching to six, and the bachelor of fine arts to 163. The institute also conferred honorary degrees on sculptor James Melchert and Robert P. Bergman, director of the Walters Art Gallery, who is leaving to become director of the Cleveland Museum of Art.

Mr. Bergman also was the speaker at the University of Baltimore commencement last night. More than 600 undergraduates and graduates of the Yale Gordon College of Liberal Arts and the Robert G. Merrick School of Business received their degrees.

At the Hopkins ceremonies, both the filmmaker and the statesman issued somber warnings, while hailing the power of youthful idealism.

With the end of the Cold War and the collapse of the Soviet Union, President Weizsaecker said, "At the very moment of its triumph, the free market society finds itself faced with its greatest challenge. . . .

"If we do not master the hunger, poverty, overpopulation -- need but also greed -- in human society, the consequences will invariably incur disastrously high costs for nature."

This modern German leader who helped conceal the identities of friends who plotted to assassinate Adolf Hitler -- and whose father was convicted of war crimes -- has been called the conscience of his country. As a young man, he acknowledged his father's failure, and he has urged his compatriots to honestly confront their national responsibility for the Holocaust.

Young people throughout the world, he said, have offered brilliant examples of courage and conviction: at Tiananmen Square in China, in European capitals where youth rallied for "an end to dictatorship," and in the U.S. Civil Rights movement.

In a similar vein, Mr. Levinson, 51, said his own generation had marched against Americans dying in Vietnam, "but we don't demonstrate against Americans dying in the streets today."

These concerns seem pushed aside, he suggested, by a media that can create unusual needs.

"Do you need crystal clear Pepsi?" he asked. "Did you ever say, I like cola but I would be much happier if I could only see through it?"

He was unsparing of his own generation's handling of the causes it once espoused so fervently. "It was my generation that held up the peace sign and yet today we have perhaps the most violent society on the face of the earth. So, what happened?"

By the time a child leaves elementary school, he or she will have seen 8,000 murders and 100,000 other acts of violence on television, he said. "But we ignore the effect it's having on our society.

"What went wrong," he said, answering the question he raised, "is it's real easy to get lost. It's easy to lose what's important today in this constantly cluttered world of media madness."

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