Graduates, WMC set for change

Cancer research activist, and ambassador speaks at Notre Dame graduation

May 26, 2002|By Mary Gail Hare and Scott Calvert | Mary Gail Hare and Scott Calvert,SUN STAFF

Western Maryland College is renaming itself McDaniel College within a few weeks, but as the Class of 2002 showed yesterday, the Westminster school is clinging to 135 years of tradition.

As they have done for more than a century, graduates donned green and gold hoods and marched past rows of robed faculty members applauding them.

While the class paraded to Gill Gymnasium, President Joan Develin Coley rang the iron bell that hung in the college's Old Main Building from 1890 until the building was razed in 1959 - the same bell each freshman rings to signify entry into campus life.

"It is a bittersweet and momentous time," said Teron Power, a sociology major from Milford, Del. "To be the last class from WMC makes us all feel more special."

Meanwhile, at the College of Notre Dame of Maryland, it was a time for personal rather than institutional change. As friends and family members whooped and sounded air horns, the 129-year-old college conferred degrees on 603 graduates.

In Westminster, it was a day of lasts. Graduates marched behind the WMC flag, carried by junior Allen Silfee, and sat before a large WMC seal.

"They picked the most appropriate name they could," said Silfee. "If we all strive to emulate McDaniel, we will still be an amazing college. Any movement that brings more people to this place that I love is a good one. Besides, a name is not so important as the place."

Yesterday's graduation wasn't the last at which Western Maryland College diplomas will be awarded, however. The next three classes of graduates can choose to have either WMC or McDaniel printed on their diplomas.

After a lengthy search for a new name, the college chose to honor 1880 graduate William R. McDaniel, who later served as professor, treasurer, vice president, acting president and trustee at his alma mater. He died in 1942.

Nearly every speaker at the ceremony took change as a theme. In her invocation, Louise A. Paquin, biology professor, asked for "courage as we change our name, and faithfulness to the ideals of this college."

Coley conferred honorary degrees in journalism on journalists Steven and Corinne "Cokie" Roberts.

Steven Roberts urged the graduates "to be like pebbles in a pond so your lives would touch many others. [The ripples] will reach shores you'll never see," he said.

His wife broadened the metaphor, telling the class to make waves with public service. "Every day, at every level, you can change people's lives," she said.

At Notre Dame's leafy campus in North Baltimore, graduates also heard the familiar commencement exhortation to go out and change the world - with a twist.

The person doing the exhorting, U.S. Ambassador to Hungary Nancy Brinker, spoke from experience. "That may sound like typical graduation hyperbole," she told her audience, "but believe me, it's not."

Twenty years ago, Brinker fulfilled a promise by founding the Susan G. Komen Breast Cancer Foundation in memory of her sister, who died of the disease at 36. A year later, she started the Race for the Cure.

The race has since spread to 112 cities and attracted 170,000 volunteers. This year, more than 1.5 million people are expected to take part in the event.

Brinker traces her zeal for service to the 1950s, when as a young girl she helped stage a talent show in Peoria, Ill., to benefit polio sufferers. It netted $64.

The stakes were much higher in 1980 when her dying older sister beseeched her: "Nan, I want you to help me change the world; I want you to help find a cure for this disease."

"What will your promise be?" Brinker asked the graduates assembled in front of LeClerc Hall. "Your choices are as infinite as the world around you."

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