WASHINGTON -- They cannot hear. He is physically disabled. But that tie that binds likely Republican presidential nominee Bob Dole and the graduating class at Gallaudet University was only loosely knotted yesterday.
In a commencement speech delivered to 380 graduates of the nation's only four-year liberal arts university for the deaf, Dole didn't mention his disabilities and said very little about theirs.
Aides had said that Dole would talk about disabilities, theirs and his. But minutes before the ceremonies began, Dole was still working on his speech, rewriting a draft he had been given.
In the end, Dole was Dole, which means he didn't talk about himself, was humorous and brief. His speech lasted only 12 minutes.
"Someone once said that commencement speakers are like a body at a funeral," Dole said. "You can't hold the ceremony without one, but nobody expects you to say very much.
"I try to remember what I call the rule of the three B's," he added, "be brief, be sincere and be seated."
The Senate majority leader said he didn't want to talk about politics and his differences with President Clinton, because that was inappropriate.
So he was delivering a policy speech on the many problems facing America.
An hour and a half before his speech, Dole said he was still thumbing through "quote books looking for especially weighty and perceptive pieces of wisdom from the giants of history" to share.
Aides had said they expected Dole to connect his life story with the students -- going off to World War II, where an artillery shell exploded, wounding his hands, arms and shoulders and making simple tasks in life difficult.
Sen. John McCain of Arizona, a Gallaudet trustee and Dole backer, said it wasn't necessary for Dole to talk about his disability. "I think he felt his presence and their knowledge of his experience and his contributions is the message he really wanted to get across. He's a private man," McCain added. "He doesn't like to talk about those things except in terms of his entire life experience."
The only reference to Dole's disability was when he was awarded an honorary doctorate of law degree for his work for the disabled.
Board of Trustees Chairman Glenn B. Anderson said Dole had "turned his own experience with disability into a better life for other people with disabilities."
He quoted Dole as having once said about the direction that his life took after the war injuries: "I do try harder.
"If I didn't, I'd be sitting in a rest home, in a rocker, drawing disability."
Anderson said Dole had supported every major piece of legislation before Congress in the past 27 years on behalf of the disabled. Gallaudet receives about 70 percent of its operating budget from Congress.
In his speech, Dole recalled watching students at Gallaudet protest eight years ago to force university trustees to hire a deaf president. Dole endorsed the action at the time.
"Today is a day of celebrating your remarkable achievement," Dole said. "Whatever lies ahead, it is my hope that you will remember the difference between average people and great people can be explained in three words -- 'and then some.'
"The top people did what was expected, and then some. They met their obligations and responsibilities fairly and squarely, and then some. They were good friends, and then some.
"They could be counted on in emergencies, and then some. So it took courage, and then some, to get where you are today. And I know your tomorrows will also be full of determinations, and then some."
Pub Date: 5/11/96