Trudeau advises grads their time will come

May 26, 2007|By Gadi Dechter | Gadi Dechter,Sun reporter

At Goucher College's graduation ceremony yesterday, Doonesbury creator Garry Trudeau apologized to the Class of 2007 for representing yet another baby boomer peddling wisdom to the micro-managed children his generation has produced.

"It must at times seem to your generation that mine will never get off the stage," the Pulitzer Prize-winning cartoonist said to about 275 graduating students.

"Don't despair," Trudeau said. He quoted some reassurance he received decades earlier from a mentor, when the politically charged Doonesbury was being dumped by "stuffy, out of touch" newspaper publishers: "Sooner or later, these guys die."

"Damned if he wasn't right," Trudeau said. "All across the country, publishers who had vowed that Doonesbury would appear in their papers over their dead bodies were getting their wish."

Today, the comic strip established in 1970 appears in nearly 1,400 newspapers around the world.

"Your day will come," the 58-year-old Trudeau assured the students. "My generation will fade away and you will take the stage and you will be spectacular."

The cartoonist spoke at the private liberal arts college's 116th commencement exercises, under a bright sun that was hot but welcome; it was the first time in five years that it hasn't rained at a Goucher graduation.

With fewer than 1,500 undergraduates, the school takes pride in securing high-profile but off-beat graduation speakers who frequently outshine the honorees who speak at far larger campuses in Maryland. Trudeau followed in the recent footsteps of satirist and Simpsons voice-over artist Harry Shearer, and children's author Maurice Sendak.

Trudeau's appearance was trumpeted by college officials as a "rare public appearance," though he has made many previous commencement appearances, including one at the Johns Hopkins University in 1990.

Still, true to his reclusive reputation, the cartoonist hid out in President Sanford J. Ungar's office bathroom after being approached by a reporter, waiting until the graduation procession was about to begin before emerging.

But once he hit the stage, Trudeau also hit his stride, getting a warm welcome and much laughter for a 15-minute speech that called on students to emphasize the virtue of empathy in a world increasingly divided by moral absolutism and fundamentalism.

In Doonesbury, Trudeau has in recent years taken on the war in Iraq. But he stayed away from overt political statements in his speech.

Not so Ungar, Goucher's president, who said his optimism for the graduating class' promise was tempered by turmoil in the world outside the leafy suburban campus -- known to students as the sheltered "Goucher Bubble."

"Optimism should be the order of the day ... but once again the world around us has brought us worry and anxiety in the past year," Ungar said in his public remarks.

"The war in Iraq, which was just getting under way when most of today's graduates were beginning their college careers ... has ground on relentlessly, with little relief in sight," he said. "The most intangible and profound casualty of that unpopular and unsuccessful war is America's reputation in the world at large," giving Goucher's "unique international mission a special urgency."

Goucher is known for encouraging foreign study, and this year instituted a study-abroad requirement for all its undergraduate students.

If the baby boomers in the crowd were worried about the world their children are about to enter, the mood among Goucher grads appeared far more carefree. Many wore flip-flops on their feet, and Dylan Koehler, a history major from Lime Rock, Conn., had on nothing but a pair of Speedo swimming briefs under his black gown.

"The forecast said it would be hot," Koehler explained, fussing with his long mullet hairdo. "I didn't want to add to the heat."

As for the hockey hair, well, that's just a reflection of Koehler's personal philosophy: "It's important not to be taking myself too seriously at this stage in my life," he said. "And mullet graduation photos will always reflect that."

Also yesterday afternoon, nearly 600 undergraduate and graduate degrees in business and liberal arts studies were conferred by the University of Baltimore at a ceremony in the Lyric Opera House near the downtown public university.

UB's commencement speaker was also a media figure: Paula Kerger, a Baltimore County native and 1979 UB graduate who is now CEO and President of the Public Broadcasting Service.

At perhaps the only area commencement ceremony that was "webcast" in streaming video, Kerger said the graduating generation has been unfairly stereotyped as dehumanized by technology.

"Some look at the rise of social networking Web sites and say it's proof that this generation is too coddled and narcissistic," Kerger said. "To you I say: Prove these critics wrong. ... you must become the next great generation."

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