Gamely facing the future

College: A gloomy keynote speech about an unequal America doesn't dampen the spirits of Morgan State grads on commencement day.

May 21, 2001|By Andrew A. Green | Andrew A. Green,SUN STAFF

Heading for an increasingly technological world, more Morgan State University students graduated yesterday with degrees in electrical engineering than in any other field. Biology, telecommunications and information science majors weren't far behind. Even so, they were told, the world is not theirs for the taking.

San Francisco Mayor Willie L. Brown Jr., the keynote speaker at yesterday's ceremony at the historically black college, told the graduates that lamentably little has changed since he graduated from college in the early days of the civil rights movement, and not nearly enough has changed since the Civil War. The world has not progressed enough, he said, that he can speak to graduates about technology or business or the economy instead of the politics of justice.

"Justice and equality is not a part of what we experience on a daily basis in America," he said.

When he graduated from college in 1955, two men -- Martin Luther King Jr. on the religious front and Thurgood Marshall on the secular -- were leading the nation to reject the injustices of segregation, and they achieved wonderful things, Brown said. But today, the institutions of government that were once the chief weapons in the fight for civil rights are led by men who would undo those hard-fought gains, the California Democrat said.

"Post-Reconstruction, post-Martin Luther King, post-Thurgood Marshall, you'll find in place a Supreme Court, you'll find in place a Justice Department, you'll find in place an administration that are just as hostile" as those from decades ago, he said.

Morgan State conferred three doctoral degrees, 95 master's degrees and 768 bachelor's degrees in its 125th commencement.

Coppin State College also held its graduation ceremonies yesterday, conferring 796 graduate and undergraduate degrees. Rep. Elijah E. Cummings, a Democrat from Maryland's 7th District, gave the commencement address during ceremonies at the Baltimore Arena.

Brown's gloomy message did not dampen the spirits of the Morgan graduates, who hooted and cheered throughout the ceremony at the Talmadge L. Hill Field House, enthusiastically waving tiny orange-and-blue Morgan State flags over their heads.

Graduates said Brown's message spoke to their lives.

"Everything he had to say was true to the T" for a young black man in society today, said Paul W. Brown III of Columbia, an information systems and science graduate who will pursue a master's degree in computer science at the University of Maryland, College Park.

Graduates said they are ready to serve -- though not in the same way as Brown, at least not yet.

Kizzi A. V. Smith of Baltimore, the senior class president, said in her address to graduates that just as others helped them, they must support the next generation.

"You may be graduating with a 4.0 [grade point average] and an $80,000-a-year job, but you have done nothing unless you have helped someone else toward the path of greatness," she said. "We must encourage and support our youth ... ."

Smith agreed with Brown that "the struggle has not ended," and she said she intends to do something about it. The communications major is taking a public relations job with Disney but said she'd like to return to Baltimore, serve on local boards and then run for City Council.

When Brown spoke about the persistence of racism and injustice, Yorruba D. Harrison of Baton Rouge, La., started thinking about experiences from his life.

Harrison was a wide receiver on the Morgan State football team, and he said that without an athletic scholarship, he never would have made it to the college. He said he's not thinking about being politically involved, but football got him where he is, and he hopes to help others to similar success. A physical education major, he has taken a job as a teacher and football coach at West Hills Community College in San Jose, Calif. "I want to give something back. You have to give, no matter what," he said.

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