NAACP leader lauds resistance to racism at UMCP ceremony

Theme of American pride, inclusion strong in speeches

May 26, 2000|By Michael Hill | Michael Hill,SUN STAFF

COLLEGE PARK -- With thundering oratory that overshadowed the celestial thunder outside the doors of Cole Field House, Kweisi Mfume yesterday urged the graduates of the University of Maryland, College Park to resist the rise of bigotry.

"There is a repeat of an old plague in America," the director of the NAACP told close to 5,000 graduate and undergraduate students receiving degrees at the school's 226th commencement. "Tolerance, for too many, has once again become a dirty word."

Mfume praised the students for their reaction last November when several hate letters were delivered to African Americans students and staff on campus.

"You would not allow this to happen here," he said to applause. "You stood up and fought back."

The former congressman from Baltimore's 7th District, who left the House of Representative in 1996 to head the NAACP, said that the graduates could make a similar difference in the country.

"The promise of America is real," he said. "This land is your land."

But, saying "procrastination is the great thief of time," he quoted from Martin Luther King's letter from a Birmingham jail, telling the graduates, "Now is the time. Today is the day."

Mfume, who began his address by saying that the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People "believes colored people come in all colors," received an honorary doctorate along with Taiwanese democracy advocate James C.Y. Soong.

At the Johns Hopkins University, George J. Tenet, director of the Central Intelligence Agency, also urged about 1,000 undergraduates to serve their country.

"Americans are given opportunities that no other country provides," he said. "If you don't get a lump in your throat when the National Anthem is played or the flag passes by, get a grip and recognize that you live in the greatest country in the world. Never be ashamed of the fact that you are an American."

Tenant asked for respect for those who labor in the intelligence service. "Every single day, the men and women of the U.S. intelligence match their wits -- and risk their lives -- against tough people and tough countries that do not share [our] ideals.

"They do it with integrity and brains and courage -- and more often than not, they do it anonymously," he said. "Though you will seldom hear about them, I hope that you will never take them for granted."

At the Baltimore Arena, more than 1,000 graduates of the University of Maryland, Baltimore County heard from Nobel Laureate Thomas R. Cech, president of the Howard Hughes Medical Institute.

"I urge you both to be patient and impatient," Cech said. "On the one hand, patience is a virtue because building a career, or a relationship, takes continued commitment over time. On the other hand, unswerving parience with a flawed situation is sure road to frustration and to mediocrity."

After speaking at College Park, Mfume acknowledged that he didn't remember who spoke at his graduation from Morgan State University in 1976.

"We were the first class that graduated down at the Civic Center and we were all involved protesting that," he said. "I don't expect any of these graduates to remember who spoke to them, but I hope some of what I said will come back to them now and then."

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