SALISBURY -- Yes, comedian Bill Cosby left 390 University of Maryland Eastern Shore graduates, their families, friends and faculty laughing yesterday, but not without tackling the issue that pushed the small institution into the national spotlight this spring -- fraternity hazing.
The veteran television actor donned a ceremonial academic gown but topped it with a baseball cap, complete with traditional commencement-day tassel. When he stepped to the lectern at the Wicomico County Youth and Civic Center, the Temple University graduate touted his membership in the Omega Psi Phi fraternity.
Drawing hoots of support from student members scattered in the audience, Cosby faulted the news media for failing to report on the charitable community service projects that many fraternal groups have made their primary focus.
But he chastised those who condone violent hazing rituals such as the beatings that sent five UMES students, pledges to the Kappa Alpha Psi fraternity, to a Salisbury hospital last month.
"My extreme condolences go to the families of the people involved," Cosby said. " Some people seem to be getting brotherhood confused with the Ku Klux Klan."
State police announced Friday that warrants had been issued for 11 men, all charged with first-degree assault, hazing and reckless endangerment. Police say the defendants participated in a series of beatings of fraternity pledges that occurred over a two-month period in a Princess Anne house about a mile from the 700-acre UMES campus.
Four were arrested Friday. Another surrendered yesterday. Police say the assault charge is punishable by up to 25 years in prison.
Cosby told graduates that the day belonged to them, but he reminded them that the euphoria would not last.
"You graduate, you have a job. It's going to be different for you. There is no spring break," said the longtime education advocate, who received an honorary degree yesterday to go with the doctorate in education he holds.
Cosby recalled that he did not appreciate the value of an education until he began a four-year hitch in the Navy at age 19. "I saw the light," he said. "When I got out, I ran all the way from Norfolk, Va., to Temple University."
Urging graduates not to neglect older family members who might not have had the chance to further their education, he told how his grandmother, a domestic with little formal schooling, had solved a riddle that his Temple philosophy class had pondered ** for hours: Is the glass half empty or half full? "That depends on whether you're drinking or pouring," was her answer, Cosby said.
"I will tell you that this is your moment," Cosby said. "But that's today, and tomorrow is Monday."
Morgan State University
U.S. Secretary of Transportation Rodney E. Slater urged about 600 Morgan State University graduates yesterday to "go forth" into a world of unprecedented opportunity. "You are the generation that will carry us into a new century and a new millennium," Slater told the crowd in Hughes Stadium. "You must accept the responsibility that comes with the opportunity you have been afforded. You must give back to society."
Slater told the students they will face disappointments but should not give up. "The secret," he said, "is to find yourself always going forward taking on a challenging new job seeing the wrong in something and putting it right."
Appointed secretary of transportation in February 1997, Slater was among four recipients of honorary doctorate degrees from the college.
Others receiving honorary doctorates were Steven D. Dorfman, vice chairman of Hughes Electronics Corp.; Shirley M. McBay, president of Quality Education for Minorities Network; and Dr. Elijah Saunders, a Morgan alumnus and director of the Hypertension Center at the University of Maryland School of Medicine.
John Richard Bryant, bishop of the African Methodist Episcopal Church, was named the Alumnus of the Year. Bryant, a former pastor at Bethel AME Church in Baltimore, presides over 300 churches in Texas.
Usually the winners of the nation's largest undergraduate literary award are aspiring poets or novelists who impress the judges with their rhythm and prose.
This year, the winner of the Sophie Kerr Prize at Washington College was the author of an analytical piece examining the relationship between theater and politics in Shakespeare's plays.
At commencement exercises yesterday, Edward James Geisweidt, 22, of Felton, Del., received a diploma, a handshake and $35,000 -- the largest amount in the prize's history, thanks to a booming stock market that has enriched the original endowment.
"I am completely surprised," said Geisweidt, who entered his senior thesis in the contest at the urging of a friend.
He was one of 241 students to graduate from the small Chestertown college this year. Ben Bradlee, vice president of the Washington Post, was the guest speaker.
Geisweidt, an English major, said he has not decided what he will do next but expects to seek a research or technical writing job while looking into graduate programs. He said he plans to be a writer or a teacher.
The Kerr prize is given to the graduating senior who shows the most promise as a writer.
"He broke new ground with this thesis," said Richard Gillin, chairman of the English department and of the Sophie Kerr committee, which selected Geisweidt's text from 14 submissions.
In addition to being an active member of the small Chestertown college's literary community, Geisweidt has acted in many plays at the school.
Each year since 1968, the 900-student college has given out the no-strings-attached cash prize. The award is named after Sophie Kerr Underwood, a local novelist popular in the 1930s and '40s, who left the college about $500,000 when she died in 1965.
Along with the money, the Sophie Kerr prize contains a burden, or what some call a curse. Of the previous winners, none has become a widely famous writer, though many have had successful careers.
Coppin State College
Gov. Parris N. Glendening urged Coppin State College graduates to give back to their communities and continue the tradition of community service they began in high school. Speaking at a ceremony at the Baltimore Arena, the governor told a crowd of about 3,000 that Coppin's and Maryland's futures are linked, and he promised to work to help Coppin "in the interest of the state."
Four hundred undergraduates and 140 graduate students earned degrees yesterday, including 52 nursing students who formally received their caps and pins at a campus ceremony Saturday.
Mount St. Mary's
Biology professor and keynote speaker William Meredith, retiring after 41 years at Mount St. Mary's, welcomed graduates to the community of intellectuals yesterday and sent them off with a set of wishes: "The kind of luck that comes from preparation, the kind of happiness that comes from loving what you're doing, the kind of richness that comes from living a full life of service, and mental and spiritual health that comes with having a clear conscience."
The 190-year-old Roman Catholic college in northern Frederick County awarded 359 undergraduate degrees and 108 master's degrees at a ceremony attended by more than 4,500 people at the college's Knott Arena, the largest crowd at a graduation in a decade, a school official said.
Meredith sprinkled his speech with self-effacing humor, telling the crowd, "There is one beatitude that did not make it into the Bible: 'Blessed is he who has learned to laugh at himself, for he shall never cease to be entertained.' I have tried to live by this and have tried to take my work seriously without taking myself too seriously."
St. John's College
At St. John's College in Annapolis, 116 students received undergraduate degrees and 37 master's degrees in ceremonies under the Liberty Tree. Guest speaker Anthony Kronman, dean of Yale Law School, spoke of the importance of St. John's in preserving Western civilization. Faculty speaker William Pastille warned graduates of the danger of knowledge and the risk of its leading to prejudice and assumptions of power.
The Marvin B. Cooper award, given to students who show care for the youth of Annapolis, was given to graduates Rebekah Jongewaard and Larry McNeely. The award is named for a Baltimore lawyer and alumnus shot to death in 1994.
Pub Date: 5/18/98