4:30 p.m., Jan. 10, 2009----The University of Delaware saluted its newest graduates during Winter Commencement ceremonies, held Saturday, Jan. 10, in the Bob Carpenter Center.
UD President Patrick Harker welcomed the audience of more than 4,800, which included more than 400 members of the Class of 2008, their families and friends, as well as UD faculty, administrators and members of the UD Board of Trustees.
“What a wonderful day of celebration!” Harker said. “To our graduates, I offer my congratulations. You should take pride in what you have accomplished here, because it is truly exemplary.”
Harker reminded the graduates that they represent a tradition of excellence begun in 1743 by the Rev. Francis Alison, whose first class included three signers of the Declaration of Independence and one signer of the U.S. Constitution.
“The tradition of excellence established in that first class has been handed down through the years as the University of Delaware has grown and evolved,” Harker said. “It has been cherished and nurtured, and we continue to strive for excellence in everything we do.”
Harker urged the members of the Class of 2008 to continue to build on this tradition of excellence by maintaining ties to the University through UDconnection.com, and to attend UD's first Forum and Reunion Weekend on June 5-7.
“The Rev. Francis Alison understood that wealth, privilege and education bring with them the responsibility of leadership, the responsibility to create opportunity for others,” Harker said. “Your faculty, your fellow alumni and I have great confidence in you and in your potential to take on these important responsibilities.”
Mary Patterson McPherson
Delivering the Commencement address, Mary Patterson McPherson, UD alumna and executive director of the American Philosophical Society, recalled her own arrival at UD to earn a master's degree in philosophy 45 years ago, at a time when both the University and the minds of the local community were a lot smaller.
“Sadly, Newark was a racially segregated town, with diners, drugstore counters and all manner of greasy spoons closed to people of color,” McPherson said. “One of my greatest experiences here was to work with Ralph Purcell, then chairman of the political science department, and several colleagues from nearby Lincoln University, to convince store owners that if they all agreed to work together to reverse this policy, no one of them would be hurt financially, which was their major concern.”
While acknowledging that most of the graduates would have a hard time accepting that such a situation existed, she noted that progress in this area has been made. "It is heartening to see that real progress has been made in this part of Delaware and, of course, in our country as we get ready to celebrate the inauguration of a president of mixed race parentage."
In a lighter vein, McPherson noted that commencement speakers are often chosen because “they might have something to say and spend an overly long period of time proving that they do not.”
Such speakers, McPherson noted, can follow the example of Art Buchwald, who told a graduating class at the College of the Holy Cross, ”We have given you a perfect world. Don't go out and louse it up,” or the sage advice of famed philosopher (and Baseball Hall of Fame member) Yogi Berra: “In life, when you come to a fork in the road, take it.”
Instead, McPherson mentioned three works she read during the recent holiday break about conditions currently facing the United States and the need for new ideas to confront the situation.
Cited were Fareed Zakaria's The Post American World and Tom Friedman's Hot, Flat and Crowded, and a New York Times editorial by Bob Herbert, titled “Stop Being Stupid.”
“All three authors agree that Americans must resolve to be smarter going forward than we have been in the recent past, and they agree in good measure on the power shifts in the past several decades that have left the United States in a very different position from the one it has occupied for most of the 20th century, and as an unrivaled superpower for the past two decades,” McPherson said.
The United States does not have to be moving into an anti-American period, she said, but that the country will be entering a world where it must learn to contend with the rise of emerging economic powerhouses such as India, Brazil, China and Russia.
“To mange to hold our own, we must become smarter, wiser and more knowledgeable about the rest of the world and understand the new ways we could play a useful, beneficial leadership role working with respected partners,” McPherson said. “We have historically been admired as a nation that could attract able people with our hopes and aspirations - an exporter of hope, not fear - has been who we have been, and it is, [Friedman] urges, who we must be again.”
To compete in the new world order of major and smaller powers around the globe, all with their own interests and ideas, America needs a new generation of dynamic, knowledgeable leaders, including those from the UD Class of 2008, McPherson said.
“If we are going to play smarter, we not only have to pay attention to who leads us and how, but we must get actively involved and hold people in every walk of life accountable for good performance, be they our elected local or national representatives, our children's teachers, our professional colleagues, and perhaps most importantly, ourselves,” McPherson said. “We may have been shocked now into agreeing that we must come to our senses and invest in strengthening the frayed fabric our country, addressing critical needs ignored for too long, be it providing the young with an education that properly prepares them for life in the 21st century, designing a system of affordable healthcare to enhance productivity and strengthen the economy, getting serious about caring for the environment before it is too late and weaning ourselves from foreign oil and all the complicated political problems that failing to do so has wrought for us.”
While the problems facing the potential leaders among the Class of 2008 are indeed significant, McPherson said the challenge is matched with an opportunity that does not come to every generation of college graduates.
“It must be good to know that after all your hard work here, there will be much for you to do of real significance in the world you now enter,” McPherson said. “Just as the 'greatest generation' - as Tom Brokaw calls those that helped reshape the world after the Second World War some 70 years ago - were given a challenge of great substance, scope and importance which called on all their courage, creativity and personal strength, so will you have the opportunity to take on real issues of huge importance to this country and the world.”
McPherson concluded her remarks by asking the graduates to heed the advice of modern Greek poet Constantine Cavafy who urged readers “to learn and go on learning from their scholars,” and not to hurry the journey, “Better if it lasts for years, So you're old by the time you reach the island, Wealthy with all you've gained on the way.”
Before her remarks, Gil Sparks, vice chairman of the UD Board of Trustees, presented McPherson with an honorary degree, citing her lifelong championing of higher education for women and advocacy for the liberal arts. The read the complete citation, click here.
Cihan Cobanoglu, associate professor of hotel, restaurant and institutional management and president-elect of the UD Faculty Senate, spoke on behalf of the faculty, recognizing the efforts of the newest graduates and the faculty who served them during their time at UD.
“We have been in your corner since your arrived here, we have been rooting for you the whole time, and now we take probably an undue amount of pride in your accomplishments, even though you really deserve all the credit for your own success,” Cobanoglu said. “If you have appreciated what your teachers or faculty have done for you and have been inspired or motivated by any of us, I think one great way you can show your appreciation is by doing everything you can to provide those kinds of opportunities or inspirations to others.”
The award-winning University of Delaware Chorale opened and closed the Commencement ceremonies with stirring performances of the national anthem and the UD alma mater, respectively.
A reception was held on the Concourse following the conferral of degrees.
From the graduates
Erin Venturato, an elementary education major from Ridgefield, Conn., said, “I can't wait to get working at the Richardson Park Elementary School, where I will be teaching second grade. I came here for the education program, and I'm going to stay and get a master's in education.”
Elena Marks, an elementary education major from Wilmington, Del., said that her undergraduate experience “had its ups and down, but also was a lot of fun. I walked away learning a lot more than I thought I would.”
Sinji Lee, an accounting major from Virginia who formerly lived in Dover, said her favorite class was business law taught by Neal Phillips, assistant professor of accounting.
Timothy Kim, a history major from Newark, Del., said it felt great to be graduating and that his favorite class was on the history of colonialism and was taught by Wunyabari Maloba, professor of history.
Keith Johnson, an animal science major from Baltimore, said “My experience here has been excellent, and it's also a relief to be done.”
Curtis Simpson, an environmental soil science major from Middletown, Del., said, “I've had a great time here. It also was great to be a part of Alpha Gamma Rho.”
Article by Jerry Rhodes
Photos by Kathy F. Atkinson and Duane Perry