Four years ago, Sheree Lynell Stokes was too shy and unsure to think of leaving Baltimore for college.
But yesterday, as she addressed her fellow students at the College of Notre Dame's 98th commencement, Miss Stokes' horizons had expanded considerably -- from St. Paul, Minn., where she has a summer research job, to the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, where she will begin a doctoral program this fall in chemistry.
Poised and confident, Miss Stokes said she doubted Plato or the Pythagorean theorem would help the graduates negotiate pay raises or buy their first cars. But she said the students would long appreciate the liberal arts background provided by Notre Dame, founded as a school for girls in 1871.
So what author did this West Baltimore honor student choose to inspire the other 279 graduates at yesterday's ceremonies? Dr. Seuss, whose "You're Never Too Old" provided Miss Stokes with these rhymed instructions for her classmates:
"You're off to great places. Today is your day. Your mountain is waiting. So get on your way."
"I was hunting and hunting for something to read," she said after the ceremony on the lawn of the North Baltimore campus. "I just thought Dr. Seuss would cheer it up."
Dr. Seuss added a lighthearted note to an occasion rife with tears and prayers. But Miss Stokes, chosen by her peers to give the Class of 1993 response to the school, drew just as many laughs as she shimmied across the stage to pick up her diploma, dancing in place as if she had just scored the winning touchdown.
"She always was the class clown," said her mother, Betty Davis. "She'd do her work, be the first one finished, and then start clowning around so the other children never finished their work."
The middle child between two sisters, Miss Stokes walked at 7 months and started school at age 2, attending a special program at Madison Square Elementary School. But not everything came easy for her -- not even chemistry, which she hated when she first took it at Western High School.
Miss Stokes was one of 216 students who received bachelor's degrees from the college yesterday. Sixty-four men and women received master's degrees, and an honorary doctorate was conferred on Ellen Silbergeld, a professor of epidemiology and toxicology at the University of Maryland.
The Rev. Joseph A. Sellinger, S.J., president of neighboring Loyola College until his death last month, was honored with Notre Dame's Pro Urbe award; and Mildred Buzek Otenasek, a 1936 graduate, received the President Medal.