Waving small blue-and-orange flags -- the school colors -- and swaying to a Ray Charles arrangement of "We Are the World," the Class of 2000 at Morgan State University turned yesterday's 124th commencement into a celebration.
As the newest members of the university's alumni of more than 30,000, the class of nearly 850 had reason to fill Hill Field House with cheers. Three members registered perfect 4.0 grade point averages for each of four years. Another 124 were graduating with academic honors. And Donna Tyler Hollie became the first in the school's 132-year history to earn a doctorate in philosophy.
University President Earl S. Richardson told a standing-room-only gathering of students, family and faculty that as Morgan has grown from a school of nine students to its current enrollment of about 6,200, what once was a "gateway to opportunity" has become "a stairway to excellence."
Lt. Gen. Larry Rudell Ellis, the keynote speaker, encouraged his audience to look back on the past "so we don't have to stumble into the future."
"Leaders serve, and we need leaders of color," he added, reminding the graduates of lessons of responsibility and punctuality that he learned at Morgan more than 30 years ago.
Of nine Morgan alumni to have risen to the rank of general in the Army, Ellis is the only one to earn three stars. The deputy chief of staff for operations and plans for the Army at the Pentagon, he is the first African-American to hold that post.
Ellis was one of four who were presented with honorary degrees by Richardson and Dallas R. Evans, chairman of the university's Board of Regents. The others were Robert L. Mallett, deputy secretary of the U.S. Department of Commerce; Samuel Thornton Daniels, grand master emeritus of the Free and Accepted Masons of Maryland; and Richard Ishmael McKinney, who initiated programs and courses in philosophy and religious studies at Morgan 50 years ago.