Two ceremonies mark graduation

Rite: Although the challenges of the current war were noted, commencement at Hopkins offered plenty of levity.

May 24, 2002|By Jeff Barker | Jeff Barker,SUN STAFF

As rites of passage often do, the Johns Hopkins University's undergraduate commencement yesterday blended the sober with the festive.

For fun, it was hard to top the sight of retired Orioles legend Cal Ripken Jr., who received an honorary doctor of humane letters degree, bedecked in the university's gold and sable academic colors - instead of in Oriole black and orange - and wearing a tasseled black cap.

All that was missing was an "8" on the back of his robe - the number that baseball's "Iron Man" wore for the Orioles for 20 years.

"I did ask for it, but I found out that it had been already been retired," Ripken joked with a reporter before appearing with 1,010 Arts and Sciences and Engineering students for the afternoon ceremony, held inside an oversized tent at the Homewood campus.

Another celebrity doctorate recipient, NBC Nightly News anchor Tom Brokaw, struck a more serious tone in his address to the graduates when he referred to America's war on terrorism and the challenges it poses.

As they lined up for the procession, student after student in black cap and gown spotted Ripken in the lower quad, and many couldn't resist approaching the former third baseman, who skipped college to pursue his dream of playing major-league baseball. "I'm a huge sports fan. I just had to get a picture with him," said Stuart Blitz, a departing senior from Lancaster, Pa., after posing with the 19-time American League All-Star.

Ripken was honored not only for his baseball achievements, but for promoting hospital programs and medical research, as well as youth baseball in his hometown of Aberdeen.

Once inside the steamy tent, Ripken joined a crowd of about 5,000 - including the graduates, their relatives and friends - for an address by Brokaw, who read from a prepared text but demonstrated his ability to adlib. The war against terrorism, Brokaw told the graduates, "will define much of your lives, for it is not easily resolved."

"Welcome to your new world," the anchorman said. "But before you sink into your caps and gowns in an implosion of self-pity, let me remind you of other times in which the world changed and it was all hands on deck, navigating through new seas by the stars - for the old navigational charts were of very little use at that time as well."

Brokaw, a University of South Dakota graduate, counseled the departing students to draw inspiration from what he, in his 1998 book, heralded as "the greatest generation" - the men and women who came of age during the Depression and fought in World War II.

Sixty years ago, the newsman said, the Class of 1942 left Hopkins for a world war "for which the United States was pitifully prepared, except in spirit and resources."

"So we have been here before - looking into the abyss of uncertainty," Brokaw said.

He said the tools in the latest war should include not only weaponry but "wisdom, tolerance and understanding" of those Muslims who are bent on destroying America.

Brokaw's speech was not entirely weighty. He congratulated the Hopkins men's lacrosse team on reaching the national championship final four, and said he was humbled to walk "into a Baltimore arena behind Cal Ripken."

Student speakers also adopted a light tone. Class president Stephen Goutman began his speech by pointing a camera toward the sea of his classmates. "What I'm going to do quickly is take a picture," Goutman said.

Anuj Kumar Mittal, the student council president, reminded his parents that his graduation would mean "a pay increase" of about $36,000 - the amount they have been forking over annually to send him to Hopkins.

The undergraduate ceremony was part of a day of commencement activities at the university, which enrolls 18,000 students. University President William R. Brody presided over a university-wide morning session in which degrees were officially conferred on 5,549 graduates. After that, various schools and divisions held separate programs.

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