Celebrated, challenged

Graduates urged to take on world's problems, help others

May 21, 2007|By Jill Rosen | Jill Rosen,SUN REPORTER

They got the stately procession, the invocation heavy with blessings, the stirring school anthem, but in their final moments at the edge of college and whatever comes next, Morgan State University's Class of 2007 also got the big challenge.

While making it through school and becoming professionally successful are laudable achievements, African-Americans must do more, the founder of Radio One, the country's largest black-owned and -operated broadcast company, told the graduates.

"The destiny of every Morgan State graduate is to change lives," said commencement speaker Catherine Hughes, adding that it's time to reprise the notion of nation-building. "We must serve and uplift our African-American community."

Advocating a type of black nationalism, Hughes urged the graduates to aggressively build African-American networks as they build careers and to seek ways to "develop the character as well as the essence" of their people.

"It's not about what you can do for yourself," she told the hundreds awaiting their degrees, "but what you can do for others, starting with the institution that made it possible for you to do what you do."

Don't forget, she continued, those "left behind in the 'hood are still the vast majority."

As Hughes spoke in the cool, spring morning, commencement exercises were unfolding at Baltimore's Coppin State University, where Sen. Barbara A. Mikulski addressed graduates, and at Mount St. Mary's University in Emmitsburg with keynote speaker Archbishop Pietro Sambi, papal nuncio to the United States.

Yesterday evening, at the University of Maryland, College Park, about 2,000 graduates marched to receive bachelor's, master's, and doctoral degrees. Like Hughes, Rep. Steny H. Hoyer, a 1963 Maryland alum, called on the Terps to be civic-minded.

"Service is a prerequisite to addressing the great issues facing our nation - extremist ideologies that rationalize and celebrate the murder of innocent people, the proliferation of nuclear and biological weapons, addiction to foreign oil, global warming, and the widening gap between the rich and poor," Hoyer said.

"These challenges are daunting, but do not despair. ... I believe that you will embrace and fulfill the proud legacy of service handed down to you today. ... History is now yours to make."

At Morgan, proud relatives packed the bleachers at W.A.C. Hughes Memorial Stadium, snapping pictures and using cell phones to figure out which capped and gowned graduate down on the field was theirs. While quite a few parents waited in the crowd clutching bouquets and bundles of "No. 1 Grad" balloons, one finance major's family stood out in identical custom-made T-shirts.

"It's his time now! Congratulations Edwin C. Cruz," read the back, while the front displayed a picture of the pleased-looking graduate from Somerset, N.J.

"We want him to know we're here," said his mom, Dorothy Cruz, one of 13 relatives who pulled the white shirts over their regular clothes. (In case the shirts didn't do it, the family also had a banner.)

Despite the world's economic uncertainties, Homer Fleetwood II, a lecturer in Morgan's history department, who was watching the ceremony from the stands, said he had "higher hopes than ever" for this year's class.

"There's a lot more space in the global economy for these graduates," he said. "I'm not saying there's unlimited opportunity, just that opportunities have expanded."

Two 40-something graduates, part of Morgan's first class to get master's in social work degrees, were following Hughes' advice even before she gave it. Gayburnetta Galloway and Michelle Owens, both from Baltimore, were eager to see how what they learned in school might help Baltimore's poor.

Galloway wants to reach out to urban youth and their families. Owens, who's frustrated with the health disparities among African-Americans, will be trying to educate people about the dangers of HIV, hepatitis C and heart disease.

"I am optimistic about the challenge before us," Galloway said. "The tools we've been given at Morgan State will help us approach these difficulties with credibility, with honor and with respect."

Added Owens: "We believe change is possible."

jill.rosen@baltsun.com

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