Amid cheers and advice, students graduate

Coppin State marks its first commencement after becoming university

May 17, 2004|By Childs Walker and Sandy Alexander | Childs Walker and Sandy Alexander,SUN STAFF

Speakers at Morgan State University's 128th commencement yesterday invoked memories of the civil rights movement, calling on graduates to find a unifying cause, as their parents and grandparents did in the 1950s and 1960s.

Morgan bid goodbye to 980 undergraduates and 127 graduate students at its ceremony yesterday. Coppin State, meanwhile, celebrated its first commencement as a university, awarding 483 undergraduate and 181 master's degrees. St. John's College in Annapolis and the University of Maryland Eastern Shore also held commencement ceremonies yesterday.

"The enemies of our mothers and fathers are coming back in a new and different way," said the Rev. Vashti Murphy McKenzie, Morgan's keynote speaker and the first female bishop in the African Methodist Episcopal Church.

McKenzie didn't list those enemies but questioned why national leaders are focusing on the war in Iraq when they should be focused on domestic issues such as poverty and health care.

"How do we convince them it's just as important to rebuild urban America as it is to rebuild Iraq?" she asked. Part of the answer, she said, is for graduates to do more than fit in.

"We need you to find a common goal, a common good in this `me, myself and I' culture," said McKenzie, who attended Morgan for three years before earning a degree at the University of Maryland, College Park.

McKenzie's speech followed opening remarks by university President Earl S. Richardson, who reminded the crowd that the graduation was occurring a day before the 50th anniversary of the Brown vs. Board of Education decision, in which the U.S. Supreme Court struck down school segregation.

Morgan State awarded diplomas in its stadium under sunny but muggy conditions.

Family members and friends of graduates crowded into any patch of shade they could find at W.A.C. Hughes Memorial Stadium. The line leading out of the stadium for a booth selling bottled water was often as long as the line going in. Umbrellas bearing the school colors - bright blue and orange - filled the stands, although the showers many expected never materialized.

Evanson Mukira, a medical technology major from Baltimore, won the school's top academic achievement prize.

At Coppin State University's graduation at 1st Mariner Arena, family and friends of graduates were as pumped up as any hometown sports crowd.

Signs and helium balloons spotted the stands, and there were a few whistles and at least one air horn amid the cheering and shouting of names as the graduates entered.

The crowd showed particular pride all six times speakers mentioned that 2004 was the first class to graduate from Coppin State University, rather then Coppin State College, as the school was called before a name change last month.

Students also spoke of their affection for the school.

"We have a lot of educators who are committed to seeing you succeed," said Stephanie Larkins, 26, of Bel Air.

Larkins, said she chose Coppin in part because her grandmother attended the historically black college in West Baltimore when it was Coppin Teachers College. Her grandmother has died, but Larkins said she would be "absolutely elated" to see her granddaughter graduate from her alma mater.

Speaker Constance Marie Martin Unseld urged the graduates to spread positive college experiences to others and be "evangelists for education."

Unseld is founder and director of Unselds' School, a 25-year-old private school in Baltimore for children 9 months to 14 years old that extols the philosophy that every child can learn.

She also encouraged the graduates to make their dream "a humongous one" and offered some advice, including taking risks, getting along with others, being ethical and defining success on your own terms.

"We need men and women to enter into the leadership of Baltimore, Maryland and the nation," she said, urging her listeners to become creative problem-solvers.

In Annapolis, St. John's held its graduation ceremony on its rolling, tree-lined lawn without showers and without cicada sightings, said Rosemary Harty, the school's communications director. The college awarded 102 undergraduate degrees and 41 master's degrees. All St. John's graduates receive liberal arts degrees and follow a curriculum of reading, studying and discussing great books of the Western tradition.

The University of Maryland Eastern Shore held a graduation for 421 undergraduates, 80 master's degree recipients and one doctorate recipient at its Princess Anne campus, said Suzanne Street, assistant director of public relations. Yvonne Maddox, deputy director of the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development, was the speaker.

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