Graduates celebrate, gird for 'real world'

May 23, 1994|By Marina Sarris | Marina Sarris,Sun Staff Writer Sun staff writers Michael James, William Thompson and Jacques Kelly contributed to this article.

Caps and gowns were the dress, and character and the uncertain future were the themes as four Maryland colleges unleashed 3,500 graduates yesterday into the "real world of work."

The future is likely to bring some frustrations, Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright August Wilson told 650 Morgan State University graduates, including 141 who received advanced HTC degrees.

Mr. Wilson, who wrote "Fences," "Ma Rainey's Black Bottom" and "The Piano Lesson," said the world is more fast-paced and competitive than when he graduated from college, and he urged students to persevere through the uncertain times they may face. Sometimes, he said, finding a niche in life means having to change careers.

And graduates will need more than a diploma to succeed, Harlow Fullwood Jr., a businessman and community leader in Baltimore, told Coppin State College graduates as he welcomed them "to the real world of work."

As beaming parents and friends watched, obviously happy men and women picked up bachelor's and advanced degrees at Towson State University, Washington College, Morgan and Coppin yesterday.

Mr. Fullwood, in a sometimes humorous, sometimes sober speech at the Baltimore Arena, reminisced about the lessons he learned from his grandmother while growing up poor in the back hills of North Carolina.

He told the 581 graduates, including 80 who received master's degrees, that they should never be ashamed of dirty work as long as it's honest. They also should let their word mean something, make religion an important part of their lives and help their communities, he said.

"Never forget where you came from and the folk who helped you get there," said the president of Fullwood Foods Inc. At one point, Mr. Fullwood, who has several local Kentucky Fried Chicken franchises, interrupted his speech to plug the company, and referred to the audience as "beautiful chicken-eaters."

The audience worked hard to contain their joy at watching friends or relatives stride across the stage with a diploma. Some waved, others clapped and many took photographs and videos.

Among the crowd: the proud children and husband of Elizabeth Jean Jackson Allen. The Baltimore woman earned an advanced degree in criminal justice while raising a family and working two jobs.

R. Marcus Allen, a Coppin student, said that compared with his mother's load, his work seems easier "because I just have to go to school." He was joined by his father, Reginald Allen, and sister Leslie, 18, also a Coppin student.

Across town, on Morgan's campus, senior class president Stephanie A. DeVille was undaunted by the challenges that graduates face. She said in her speech that "nothing . . . can stop us" from succeeding in life, and she urged fellow graduates to live by the creed, "Forward together, and backward never."

Mr. Wilson, who received an honorary doctorate from Morgan, saw his daughter, Sakina Ansari, graduate yesterday with a bachelor's degree in psychology. The audience at Morgan included Rep. Kweisi Mfume, D-7th, whose son, Keith Gray, earned a bachelor's degree in business administration.

The university awarded two other honorary degrees.

Dr. Benjamin L. Carson Sr., director of pediatric neurosurgery at the Johns Hopkins medical institutions, was recognized for his contributions to the field of surgery. Charles L. Benton, Maryland's secretary for budget and fiscal planning, was recognized for more than six decades of public service, including 31 years as Baltimore's director of finance.

The honoree at Towson State's 129th annual commencement exercises could not attend the ceremony.

Anatoly Alexandrovich Sobchak, mayor of St. Petersburg, instead attended a school convocation May 6 to receive his honorary Doctor of Humane Letters. Towson State president Hoke L. Smith, noting the volatile situation in Russia, said Mr. Sobchak was meeting yesterday with the prime minister of Finland.

He called the mayor, who heads Russia's second-largest city, "a leader in the democratic movement in Russia supporting a liberal point of view, encouraging privatization, land reform, democratic institutions and a capitalistic market economy."

"During the coup in August 1991, hundreds of thousands of St. Petersburg citizens gathered to hear Mayor Sobchak speak to assure them that he would not allow troops to invade the city," the school's president said from the stage of the Towson Center. "He kept his promise.

"The Soviet Union flag was lowered and the Russian Federation flag was raised at the Maryinsky Palace. The crowds cheered and peacefully went home, confident that they were safe with Mayor Sobchak as their leader."

At two separate ceremonies, Towson State conferred 1,826 bachelor's degrees and 237 master's degrees. Donald A. Henderson, deputy assistant secretary for health and science in the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, also was awarded an honorary degree.

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