Kennedy echoed father at graduation

He urged students to volunteer in speech at Washington College

July 18, 1999|By Devon Spurgeon | Devon Spurgeon,SUN STAFF

It was the only commencement address he ever gave.

Standing on the manicured lawns of Washington College on May 24, John F. Kennedy Jr. echoed his father and told graduates they had an obligation to serve their communities. His visit entranced Chestertown, sending residents clamoring for tickets to the graduation.

Kennedy flew to the commencement appearance, traveling in his plane from New Jersey to New Castle, Del., with his flight instructor, Washington College President John S. Toll said yesterday.

Dressed in a black double-breasted suit, Kennedy quoted George Washington and Thomas Paine. He reminded the graduates that their "learning must continue to be a lifelong experience that is informed by your direct involvement in the lives of your fellow citizens."

Kennedy showed his sense of humor during the five-minute speech. "Here I have named my magazine after you, you've got this nice town Kennedyville down the road, and I'm thinking: Why didn't I go to Washington College?"

As the 200 graduates drank champagne and screamed each time they heard "Class of '99," Kennedy accepted his "model humanitarian" award for his work heading Reaching Up, a nonprofit foundation that offers scholarship and career mentoring to social workers and others who help the disabled.

"I really thought it was amazing," said Tammy Seip, a student who sat in the front row. "I was very impressed with his speech and how he took the time to make references about Chestertown and Kent County and made us feel like he cared about what we were doing."

Inspired by the speech, she is spending her summer doing volunteer work.

Kennedy's father began the Maryland phase of his presidential campaign at the school in 1960. Thirty-nine years later, the president's son urged a new generation to look toward a career in public service. "He was in fact carrying on the spirit his father exemplified," Toll said.

"I was impressed that he was as down-to-earth as he was," said Marcia Landskroener, the associate director of college relations. "He touched a chord with the students."

As Kennedy concluded his remarks, he quoted a phrase George Washington wrote over and over to practice his penmanship: "Labor to keep alive in your breast that little spark of celestial fire called conscience."

Pub Date: 7/18/99

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