Grads of Bowie State in mood to celebrate

Labor Secretary Herman tells class it lives in `time of unrivaled opportunity'

May 30, 1999|By Erika D. Peterman | Erika D. Peterman,SUN STAFF

LANDOVER -- Kazoos and noisemakers squeaked. Congratulatory banners flew. And a steady chorus of whoops and cheers echoed down on the nearly 600 Bowie State University graduates waiting yesterday to receive their diplomas at the US Airways Arena.

Keynote speaker Alexis M. Herman, U.S. Secretary of Labor, assured the graduates that they had much to celebrate.

"I will tell you today that you are literally graduating in the healthiest economy in a generation," said Herman, a 1969 graduate of Xavier University in New Orleans. "This really is a time of unrivaled opportunity. What you receive today is not just a diploma. It's your ticket to the 21st century."

In a speech that referred to late Commerce Secretary Ronald H. Brown, rapper Busta Rhymes and rock 'n' roll musician Chuck Berry, Herman told the graduates to take pride in their legacy as products of a historically black university and to prepare themselves for the challenges of the real world.

Herman said the graduates must be able to thrive in today's "knowledge-based" economy, in which the average worker changes jobs at least seven times by age 35.

"The roots at Bowie State run deep," Herman said of the 131-year-old university in Prince George's County. "In this historic place, you learned history. You learned justice.

"We are writing new chapters in our history, and now it is your turn. You are the last graduating class of the 20th century of Bowie State University. I want you to keep blazing those trails."

Herman shared stories of her trials as a young graduate returning home to Mobile, Ala., to hunt for a job. She said she was turned down repeatedly -- sometimes because she was black and sometimes because she was a woman, she added.

One man who ran a bank told Herman the best she could hope for was to become a secretary, she said.

"I would like to know where he is today," Herman said, as the crowd began to applaud. "I would turn to him and say, `Sir, I am indeed a secretary!' "

Herman charged Bowie's graduates to stay close to their families and to draw strength from their religious faith.

"You have done well, graduates," she said. "Now, you must go out and do good."

Earlier in the ceremony, Herman received an honorary doctorate of humane letters from the university.

Also honored were Dr. Martha Settle-Putney, founding chairwoman of Bowie's history department; Dr. Amram J. Cohen, deputy chief of cardiovascular surgery and head of pediatric cardiovascular surgery at Wolfson Medical Center in Holon, Israel; and David Satcher, U.S. surgeon general.

Satcher and Cohen did not attend the ceremony.

Settle-Putney -- who is mentioned in NBC news anchor Tom Brokaw's book "The Greatest Generation" -- served in the Women's Auxiliary Corps during World War II, helped form faculty government at Bowie State and established library resources in history at the school.

Settle-Putney also received one of the school's faculty emeriti awards.

Also receiving faculty emeriti awards were Dr. Ada Maria Elam, founding dean of students at Bowie; her sister, Dr. Julia Corene Elam, founding chairwoman of the university's communications department; and Dr. Wei-hsiung "Kitty" Wu, an English professor who has been a faculty member since 1970.

Pub Date: 5/30/99

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