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Radio host Ira Glass assures Goucher grads, 'It's normal to feel lost'

Speaker's unusual connection to Towson campus draws laughter

By Scott Dance, The Baltimore Sun

7:01 PM EDT, May 18, 2012

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The program at Goucher College's 121st commencement ceremony Friday listed speaker Ira Glass' main connection to the Towson college: His grandmother was a member of its Class of 1931. In the public radio host's remarks, he added that college President Sanford J. Ungar was his former colleague at NPR and had coaxed him into appearing.

But Glass shared another connection that only a college student could best appreciate — that he lost his virginity in one of the campus dorm rooms. "Not recently," he added.

The admission drew raucous laughter from the nearly 300 graduates and their families and friends. But Glass, the host of "This American Life" and a native of Pikesville, didn't leave the young adults without some sound advice, even after roasting the very idea of a commencement speech.

"The central mission of the commencement speech is in itself ridiculous, to inspire in a moment that needs no inspiration," Glass joked. "What can words add to that except delay the moment you get your diploma?"

He encouraged the graduates to embrace the potential of their futures and work hard at creating new ideas, while recognizing that it would not come easily.

"It's normal to feel lost for a little while," Glass said. "Finding what you want to do next is a job."

Graduates said they found Glass' remarks both entertaining and didactic.

"It was very truthful, I thought," said Olivia Smith, a graduate from Leominster, Mass. "That was comforting."

Rachel Williams, a New York native and the college's outgoing student government president, said she appreciated Glass' "weird connection" to the campus.

In addition to the students receiving bachelor's degrees from the liberal-arts school, state Treasurer Nancy K. Kopp was among the honorees. Goucher awarded her an honorary Doctor of Laws degree, recognizing her 27 years as a state delegate representing Montgomery County and 10 years as state treasurer.

"Goucher is really setting the pace and breaking the mold," Kopp told the graduates. "Stick to it. It's tough, but you can do it," she added, noting that despite her accomplishments, she never finished a dissertation when she received a master's in government and public administration from the University of Chicago in 1967.

Ungar, the college president, opened the commencement ceremony lauding the Class of 2012's accomplishments. Its study abroad rate, he said, is 117 percent — with many students getting two or three experiences in Honduras, Ghana, Scotland, Rwanda, Vietnam, Costa Rica and elsewhere. Two students who studied abroad in China would return there after graduation to teach English.

He congratulated class member Sarah Bart, who made it to the semifinal round of the college tournament on the TV quiz show "Jeopardy!" and after graduation will fulfill her lifelong dream of working for the New York Mets. And he also lauded the men's lacrosse team, which completed a school record-setting 18-2 season, "this at a former women's college."

Glass told the students a story about his grandmother, Goucher graduate Frieda Friedlander. On her honeymoon to Germany in 1932, she took a tour of the Reichstag building and was introduced toAdolf Hitler,Glass said.

Friedlander, later a schoolteacher, would later have her students ask, "Why didn't you kill him?" Glass said. Of course, she had no idea what Hitler would go on to do. But Glass called on the graduates to use the story as motivation for the possibilities of the future.

"It is entirely possible that, as a Goucher grad, you or you or you will get the chance to change the world and kill Adolf Hitler, and you will miss it," he said. "I think it's just as likely you'll continue to grow."

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