Kennedy nearly steals spotlight at graduation

Editor offers remarks during ceremony at Washington College

May 24, 1999|By Jay Apperson | Jay Apperson,SUN STAFF

CHESTERTOWN -- The moms and the dads and the aunts and the uncles came to Washington College yesterday with all manner of photographic equipment, ready to capture their loved ones in cap and gown.

But many of the women had their sights set on one of the guests. John F. Kennedy Jr., magazine editor and sex symbol, visited the Eastern Shore yesterday to receive a citation for humanitarian works, and the women could hardly contain themselves.

"I'm focusing on one person," said Judi Seip, and she wasn't talking about her daughter, who was about to receive her degree. Training her camcorder on Kennedy, Seip, 52, said, "He looks kind of good. Mmmm, mmmm."

Alumna Frances Burnet, 38, offered this assessment: "There's never been a better-looking guy on campus."

Kennedy, dapper in a black double-breasted suit with his hair coifed to near-impossible perfection, all but stole the show yesterday in Chestertown. In the end, the more than 200 members of the school's graduating class regained center stage.

They passed bottles of champagne, they whooped and screamed at every mention of "the class of '99" -- and otherwise acted like graduates are supposed to act on their big day.

Near the end of the ceremony, 22-year-old Luke Eston Owens was awarded more than $43,000 for winning the Sophie Kerr Prize, the largest undergraduate literary award in the country.

Graduation day at Washington College is a big event in Chestertown, population 3,000. Many of the townsfolk strolled down Washington Avenue to the ceremony, conducted under stately shade trees on the college's sprawling front lawn.

College President John S. Toll gave an honorary doctorate of science degree to Nobel Prize-winning physicist Chen Ning Yang. Toll then presented the school's Award of Excellence to Robert Don Higginbotham, a professor and scholar of Early American history.

Toll asked for a moment of silence for Louis L. Goldstein. Goldstein, longtime state comptroller and a member of Washington College's Class of 1935, died in July. The college's newest building, set for construction next month, will be named for him.

"John-John, he was also a friend of your father's," Toll told Kennedy.

For Kennedy, editor of the political magazine George, yesterday marked a visit to the college where his father began the Maryland phase of his presidential campaign in 1960. Before the students received their diplomas, Toll introduced Kennedy as a "model humanitarian" for his work heading Reaching Up, a nonprofit foundation that offers scholarships and career mentoring to social workers and others who help the disabled.

In his first address to a college graduation, Kennedy said: "I had a little epiphany this morning walking around this wonderful place. Here, I've named my magazine after the college, you have this nice town of Kennedyville down the road. Why didn't I go to Washington College?"

Kennedy spoke for about five minutes before he wrapped up his remarks by quoting George Washington. He told the students, "Labor to keep alive in your breast that celestial spark of fire called conscience. Thank you very much for this honor, and good luck."

Towson University

Thomas Szasz, a psychiatry professor, critic and author of "The Myth of Mental Illness," urged hundreds of Towson University graduates yesterday to be brave enough to question commonly held beliefs.

"It is dangerous to speak plainly and to tell the truth, and not just in theological and totalitarian societies," said Szasz, who was awarded an honorary degree at ceremonies at Towson Center. " `The truth,' said Jesus, `will set you free.' He did not say it will make you popular or rich or happy. And while freedom, true inner freedom -- what people used to call serenity -- may not win you fame or fortune, it will enable you to look yourself in the mirror and to sleep at night."

Szasz addressed about 900 graduates yesterday from the university's College of Liberal Arts and College of Science and Mathematics, the first group of the more than 2,000 students who are to receive diplomas at the university this spring.

Gov. Parris N. Glendening is to receive an honorary degree before addressing graduates from the school's College of Business and Economics and College of Fine Arts and Communication this morning. Retired Adm. Charles R. Larson, former superintendent of the Naval Academy and a member of the University System of Maryland's board of regents, is to receive an honorary degree at a ceremony this afternoon. He will speak to graduates from the College of Education and College of Health Professionals.

Maryland, Eastern Shore

Actor Glynn Turman congratulated the 420 graduates of the University of Maryland Eastern Shore yesterday on overcoming obstacles to earn their degrees.

"History will record your contributions in art, science, education, politics," said Turman, a director and actor who appeared in the 1998 film, "How Stella Got Her Groove Back."

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