|Vol. 17, No. 34||June 11, 1998|
The morning's guest speaker, Pulitzer Prize-winning columnist William Raspberry, told the crowd of 24,500 graduates, family and friends that-out of fear-he nearly declined the invitation to speak to them.
"Ten years ago, before you graduates were even in high school, the Sunday magazine of The Washington Post had a frivolous little piece on commencement speeches," he said. "Silly pomposities, [the writer] called them, that no one wants to hear, least of all the graduates who only want to 'get the diploma, get out and get crazy.'"
In considering what he might say at UD, Raspberry said it became clear that it is impossible to make a commencement speech without resorting to clichés, since any advice he might give must be general. His solution was to invite the graduates to compose their own commencement speeches.
He asked them to contemplate two questions: "What will you be doing when you are my age?" and "How will you be thought of?"
He told them not to be embarrassed if their answer to the first question was, "I don't know."
"Most of you will, by the time you are my age, be doing something utterly unrelated to your majors," Raspberry said. "That does not mean that your years at the University of Delaware will have been a waste. It means only that their value will consist primarily of the generalized information we call liberal arts. What your college education will have given you is some place to stand while you figure out where to go."
In answering the second question, Raspberry shared a suggestion he read in an op-ed piece in The Wall Street Journal and told the graduates to write their own obituaries.
"Think about the plans and priorities you are secretly harboring and ask yourself: What will my obit say?" he said. "All of us want to be remembered-not for our incomes or our expenditures-but for our contributions. And, we do intend to contribute, maybe even to become famous philanthropists."
Raspberry reminded the audience that later is too late to begin making a reputation.
"If you want to be thought of as a solid, reliable pillar of your community when you're 50, you can't be an irresponsible, corner-cutting exploiter at 25.... The time to worry about your reputation is before you have one. You determine your reputation by deciding who and what you are and by keeping that lofty vision of yourself in mind, even when you're having a rip-roaring good time."
Raspberry's final advice to graduates was to not compete for money for its own sake but to compete in terms of contributions to the general good of society.
"I don't know how to say it without making it sound like, well, a cliché, but your best shot at happiness, self-worth and personal satisfaction-the things that constitute real success-is not earning as much as you can but in performing as well as you can at something that you know to be worthwhile," he said.
Earlier in the ceremony, President David P. Roselle welcomed the graduates, just as he had welcomed them to New Student Orientation on the Mall when they first entered the University. "I talked at that time about the confidence that I had in your ability to make better lives for the people of our world and, indeed, many of you already have. Among those of you graduating today is a wealth of diversity and interest probably greater than any class before you," he said.
He briefly described the class' diversity, noting that its members come from 40 states in the United State and 60 countries around the world. Their ages range from 19 to 76, with 15 members of the class 60 or older.
"All of you set forth today on a path even more remarkable than the one that borught you this far in life. All of you will meet challenges. We hope you will face them with the tools you have acquired at the University and make better lives for yourselves and people of the world," Roselle said.
Also at the ceremony, Delaware Gov. Thomas R. Carper presented awards to two students for achieving the highest cumulative grade index: Kyla Renee Olejarczyk and Daniel Geoffrey Steinberg.
Olejarczyk received a bachelor's degree in elementary education, with a minor in linguistics. Her honors included the Robert J. DiPietro Award for Undergraduate Achievement in Linguistics or Cognitive Sciences and the College of Human Resources, Education and Public Policy Excellence in Academic Achievement Award, and she was named to the Panel of Distinguished Seniors in Education.
She was a resident assistant for two years Now looking for a teaching job in Delaware, she just married her high school sweetheart, Bill De Stefano, who received his bachelor's degree today in chemical engineering at Commencement.
Steinberg was an honors graduate, receiving his degree with a double major in history and political science. An Alison Scholar, he won the Phi Kappa Phi Undergraduate Essay Award. A member of the University Orchestra and Wind Ensemble, playing the French horn, he also served as a news editor and columnist for The Review and was treasurer for both the College Democrats and the Civil Liberties Union.
This fall, he will be in Washington, D.C., working at the Center for Public Integrity, a nonprofit, nonpartisan group that researches and reports on ethics in the public sector.
The 90-minute ceremony opened with an alumni procession featuring representatives of the classes of the 1930s through 1998, representing the more than 100,000 living alumni of the University throughout the world.
Alumni delegates participated in the procession at the beginning of Commencement.
Photos by Jack Buxbaum and Robert Cohen