SALISBURY -- Yes, comedian Bill Cosby left 390 University of Maryland Eastern Shore graduates, their families, friends and faculty laughing yesterday, but not without tackling the issue that pushed the small institution into the national spotlight this spring -- fraternity hazing.
The veteran television actor donned a ceremonial academic gown but topped it with a baseball cap, complete with traditional commencement-day tassel. When he stepped to the lectern at the Wicomico County Youth and Civic Center, the Temple University graduate touted his membership in the Omega Psi Phi fraternity.
Drawing hoots of support from student members scattered in the audience, Cosby faulted the news media for failing to report on the charitable community service projects that many fraternal groups have made their primary focus.
But he chastised those who condone violent hazing rituals such as the beatings that sent five UMES students, pledges to the Kappa Alpha Psi fraternity, to a Salisbury hospital last month.
"My extreme condolences go to the families of the people involved," Cosby said. " Some people seem to be getting brotherhood confused with the Ku Klux Klan."
State police announced Friday that warrants had been issued for 11 men, all charged with first-degree assault, hazing and reckless endangerment. Police say the defendants participated in a series of beatings of fraternity pledges that occurred over a two-month period in a Princess Anne house about a mile from the 700-acre UMES campus.
Four were arrested Friday. Another surrendered yesterday. Police say the assault charge is punishable by up to 25 years in prison.
Cosby told graduates that the day belonged to them, but he reminded them that the euphoria would not last.
"You graduate, you have a job. It's going to be different for you. There is no spring break," said the longtime education advocate, who received an honorary degree yesterday to go with the doctorate in education he holds.
Cosby recalled that he did not appreciate the value of an education until he began a four-year hitch in the Navy at age 19. "I saw the light," he said. "When I got out, I ran all the way from Norfolk, Va., to Temple University."
Urging graduates not to neglect older family members who might not have had the chance to further their education, he told how his grandmother, a domestic with little formal schooling, had solved a riddle that his Temple philosophy class had pondered ** for hours: Is the glass half empty or half full? "That depends on whether you're drinking or pouring," was her answer, Cosby said.
"I will tell you that this is your moment," Cosby said. "But that's today, and tomorrow is Monday."
Morgan State University
U.S. Secretary of Transportation Rodney E. Slater urged about 600 Morgan State University graduates yesterday to "go forth" into a world of unprecedented opportunity. "You are the generation that will carry us into a new century and a new millennium," Slater told the crowd in Hughes Stadium. "You must accept the responsibility that comes with the opportunity you have been afforded. You must give back to society."
Slater told the students they will face disappointments but should not give up. "The secret," he said, "is to find yourself always going forward taking on a challenging new job seeing the wrong in something and putting it right."
Appointed secretary of transportation in February 1997, Slater was among four recipients of honorary doctorate degrees from the college.
Others receiving honorary doctorates were Steven D. Dorfman, vice chairman of Hughes Electronics Corp.; Shirley M. McBay, president of Quality Education for Minorities Network; and Dr. Elijah Saunders, a Morgan alumnus and director of the Hypertension Center at the University of Maryland School of Medicine.
John Richard Bryant, bishop of the African Methodist Episcopal Church, was named the Alumnus of the Year. Bryant, a former pastor at Bethel AME Church in Baltimore, presides over 300 churches in Texas.
Usually the winners of the nation's largest undergraduate literary award are aspiring poets or novelists who impress the judges with their rhythm and prose.
This year, the winner of the Sophie Kerr Prize at Washington College was the author of an analytical piece examining the relationship between theater and politics in Shakespeare's plays.
At commencement exercises yesterday, Edward James Geisweidt, 22, of Felton, Del., received a diploma, a handshake and $35,000 -- the largest amount in the prize's history, thanks to a booming stock market that has enriched the original endowment.
"I am completely surprised," said Geisweidt, who entered his senior thesis in the contest at the urging of a friend.
He was one of 241 students to graduate from the small Chestertown college this year. Ben Bradlee, vice president of the Washington Post, was the guest speaker.