Speeches and sighs of relief

At commencement events, grads urged to uphold democracy, cherish family


In a politically charged commencement speech, U.S. Sen. Paul S. Sarbanes challenged thousands of graduates last night at the University of Maryland, College Park to ensure that governmental checks and balances are maintained.

The ceremony, attended by more than 2,300 graduates, was the last of several across Maryland yesterday, including at Morgan and Coppin state universities in Baltimore.

Sarbanes, who is retiring after five terms in the Senate, told the crowd of more than 10,000 at the campus' Comcast Center that many of the issues at the forefront of American politics today mirror those debated during the political lifetime of Benjamin Franklin.

FOR THE RECORD - An article in yesterday's Maryland section about college graduations misidentified the mother of Morgan State University graduate Malcolm Neal. She is Barbara Neal.
The Sun regrets the errors.

"Our time, like Franklin's, is marked by contention and deep uncertainty," said Sarbanes, who also was the commencement speaker Saturday at Hood College in Frederick. "Public discourse is too often dominated by the loudest, harshest and most discordant voices."

As educated citizens, the graduates have a special responsibility to society to ensure that the Constitution is upheld, he said.

But many had other thoughts in picking up their degrees and saying farewell to university life.

"It feels like a dream; we're actually getting out of here for real," said biology major Maryam Gbadamos as she walked in the procession before the ceremony. "Now we don't have to worry about homework. We have to worry about rent."

Gbadamos' friend and fellow biology major, Mary Glover, admitted to some trepidation.

"To be honest, it's pretty intimidating," Glover said. "We're officially crossing into adult life."

Behind the celebrations of accomplishment that thousands of students experienced with the awarding of a diploma were stories of hard work and sacrifice.

Malcolm Neal, who received an architecture degree from Morgan, had at one point considered dropping out. He was tired of subsisting on instant noodles and macaroni and cheese, and wanted to earn a living. Luckily, his mother, Essie Carter-Neal, persuaded him to stay the course.

"I couldn't have finished without my mom," said a grinning Neal, who celebrated among thousands at Morgan's W.A.C. Hughes Memorial Stadium. His mother could hardly contain her jubilation, rising to her feet, pumping her fist in the air, and shouting, "Go Malcolm!" as his name was called.

In his keynote address at Morgan, Democratic Rep. Elijah E. Cummings of Baltimore reminded graduates to strive to change the world while remembering their roots, and recounted a story about his mother at his graduation from Howard University decades ago.

Afraid her clothes might be too shabby, Cummings' mother, of modest means, did not want to embarrass her son in front of "all those sophisticated people" at Howard, he said. Cummings said he assured her he would be honored by her presence.

"Those in the audience are the ones who stood by you, who cried for you and, when you get sick, will take care of you," he said. "Never forget them. Never take them for granted."

The words touched Carter-Neal, as she nodded in agreement, clapping furiously at the end of the congressman's remarks.

"When it comes to mothers, no matter how wealthy or how poor, a mother is going to do what a mother needs to do for her children," said Carter-Neal. "It touches me when I hear about mothers sacrificing for their children. It's what we do."

At Coppin's commencement at 1st Mariner Arena, the keynote speaker was documentary filmmaker and former network news journalist Renee Poussaint, who spoke of persevering against racism. About 450 graduates received diplomas.

D'Antoine Webb, 21, of West Baltimore graduated cum laude with a history degree. Along the way, he mentored two seventh-graders and cared for his sick father.

Jamal Smith, 24, a business major from Washington, could barely contain his excitement.

"No more registration, no more hassles, no more standing in line for books, classes," Smith said. "Praise the Lord! Now I can move on with my life."

At Hood's commencement Saturday morning, Sarbanes had urged students there, too, to help preserve democracy.

"He came to my inauguration five years ago, and over these past five years we've developed a friendship," said Hood College President Ronald J. Volpe. "This is kind of a new chapter for Hood, and we asked him if he'd come and speak since he is starting a new chapter in his life, and he said he'd love to do it."

It was the last women-only graduating class at Hood, which began accepting male students in 2003.

The first 100 students of the approximately 415 receiving degrees presented Volpe with a puzzle piece. Together, the pieces bore a portrait of a nun, topped with Volpe's head.

"It was a little emotional," Volpe said. "But it was a grand event."


Sun reporters Kelly Brewington, Julie Scharper and Laura McCandlish contributed to this article.

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