Advertisement

Peace, war, economy dominate graduation speeches

By
PATRICIA McCORMACK, UPI Education Editor

The issues of peace and war, plus the economy, were dominant this week among themes of commencement speakers whose ranks included members of President Reagan's cabinet, the head of the F.B.I., industrial giants, and clerics.

Meanwhile, some students delivered 'messages' of their own via signs pinned atop their mortarboards. Most pin-ons touched on emotions that are part of every commencement -- gratitude, affection and even surprise.

Advertisement

'Hi, Mom,' said the tops of a good many. 'I made it' was another popular topping.

Some toppings simply proclaimed 'jobs.' For the class of 1982, getting a job isn't as simple as it was for members of the class of 1981 - a year when the recession was not going full tilt.

There were a few 'peace' signs of a type not seen much since the end of the Korean war, plus 'no nukes' and 'no wars.'

Joviality was allowed. Some grads were festooned with floral necklaces. Some hid behind outsized sunglasses. An occasional cork popping could be heard.

At the U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis, Md., the tradition of flinging oneself into the reflecting pool was maintained.

Getting all wet happened to graduates elsewhere as rain -- from drizzle to deluge -- fell during many outdoor ceremonies.

Advertisement

One soaking was at Yale University in New Haven, Conn., only the second time since 1950 -- when Yale graduations went outdoors -- that it rained on Yale's parade. Guests and grads wore assorted foul weather gear, including giant garbage bags. They huddled under huge golf umbrellas, little dainty ones, and man-sized black ones.

The two most colorful commencements, as usual, took place at West Point and Annapolis. Full dress uniforms sparkled, but the official speeches at the two service academies were somber, addressing war and peace issues.

The Soviet Union is gaining on the United States in war technology, Sen. John Tower, R-Texas, told U.S. Military Academy graduates at West Point, N.Y.

Tower, chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, said a 'troubled and discordant world' is witnessing the 'growing strength and reach of Soviet military power.' He decried a decrease in real defense spending over the past decade and called for support of President Reagan's defense buildup.

The Soviet Union 'is already on a wartime footing,' Tower said. 'We would be fools not to respond to the threat.'

He said the Soviets maintain an advantage in sheer numbers, and that rapidly advancing Russian technology is jeopardizing the margin of U.S. superiority.

Advertisement

Tower invoked the words of the late Gen. Douglas MacArthur, who once told West Point graduates, 'Your mission is to win our wars.'

He warned graduates to be wary of what he termed 'the steady drumbeat of anti-defense propaganda that rolls from the mass media.'

At Annapolis, Md., Defense Secretary Caspar Weinberger told the class of 1982 of the U.S. Naval Academy:

'A nuclear freeze would not reduce the probability of war.

'It would go against the first and foremost aim of arms control because it would back the United States and our allies into a position of permanent military disadvantage.' he said.

On preparedness, he said: 'The greatest paradox of all is that military strength is most successful if it is never used.

'But if we are never to use force, we must be prepared to use it and use it successfully.'

At Grove City College in Grove City, Pa., Sen. Jesse Helms, R-N.C., defended the family, foes of abortion and beat the drums for a return to prayer in schools. Helms, a leading conservative, knocked liberals, including those in the media and in education.

On abortion, he said:

'The media will tell you that the American people are divided on... abortion. But it is obvious that the media are not divided on this subject at all. They are overwhelmingly and insistently supportive ofthe deliberate termination of innocent human life.

Advertisement

'I rest my case with the American people, for, no matter how they have been brainwashed to see abortion not as an evil but as a positive good, in their hearts they know it is wrong.'

On education, he said:

'...much of what passes as education in our time is not education at all but indoctrination, and the aim of it is to reconcile the individual with the destruction or repudiation of the moral and ethical patrimony that has sustained the west for thousands of years.'

On the family, he said:

'The issue before us today is... whether the government or the family should be the formative social principle in America. The attack on the family went on for years and there really wasn't any sustained or organized opposition to it.

'But in the last decade, Americans have begun to see how their homes, their families, their children have been targeted for revolutionary change by leftists and liberals.

'That is why a groundswell of opposition has arisen...'

At Catholic University, Washington, D.C., Bishop Edwin B. Broderick challenged graduates to commit themselves to freedom and human rights causes.

Broderick, executive director of Catholic Relief Services, recalled his visit to Poland just before the imposition of martial law.

Advertisement

'Poland is a prison where freedom and human rights are denied, where ethnic identity will be swallowed up,' he said.

He also cited problems in Northern Ireland, El Salvador, Guatemala, Nicaragua, the Middle East, Italy, cambodia, Somalia, Bolivia and Chile as causes that hold challenges for new graduates.

At the College of William and Mary, Williamsburg, Va., Garry Trudeau, author of the Doonesbury cartoons, said he suspects commencement speeches were invented largely in the belief that outgoing college students should never be released into the world 'until they have been properly sedated.'

Speaking of a trend to allow students to pick their graduation speakers, Trudeau recalled in one graduation sweepstakes he placed third - 'just behind earth, wind and fire.'

Trudeau applauded as 'strong and healthy signs' the fact that youth is once again finding its voice and asking the impertinent question.

'From the no-nukes movement of the last few years to the El Salvador demonstrations to the recent calls for a freeze on nuclear arms, some of you are rediscovering your natural place in the vanguard of social change,' he said.

'The fact that not all of you are is probably equally healthy. A university, like a democracy is shaped by competing interests and principles; it draws its vigor from diversity.'

Advertisement

At Middlebury College, Middlebury, Vt., Felix G. Rohatyn, investment banker, said:

'...moderating inflation can only come through the bitter medicine of steep recession.

'You will have an exciting time and it's likely to be hard going. The United States is in need of change and your challenge will be to provide it as well as adjust to it.'

U.S. Solicitor General Rex E. Lee told Brigham Young University graduates in Provo, Utah:

'...one of the surest marks of the intellectually mature person is a willingness to try to understand a point of view with which he or she disagrees.

'The truly learned person -- of any profession -- is one who is willing to try to understand the opposing viewpoint, not just in the sense of being able to state what it is but genuinely attempting to comprehend its persuasive value.'

At the University of Miami, Coral Gables, Fla., graduates stood on chairs and waved bottles of champagne to celebrate graduation.

FBI Director William Webster challenged the grads to become more involved in and concerned with their community.

'I believe that caring, caring by individuals, makes the difference in the quality of life in villages, in towns, in cities, in states,' he said.

Advertisement

Haverford College in Haverford, Pa., awarded an honorary degree in absentia to Nomzamo Winnie Mandela, an opponent of apartheid in South Africa who has been under banning orders since 1963. The order went into effect shortly before her husband , Nelson Mandela, leader of the African National Congress, was arrested and imprisoned.

At Fordham University in New York City, Irish poet Seamus Heaney flung verse at graduates. His entire commencement speech was in verse. References were to the poet Robert Burns, to astronomers, to 'Star Wars' and Kermit the Frog.

Excerpt:

'How do we justify our fates

'As an upper crust

'With handfuls of credit cards and dollars

'In hands as pale as our white collars?

'The question makes me want to holler all flesh is dust.'

In Poughkeepsie, N.Y., Vassar graduates, shielded from the rain by umbrellas and plastic garbage bags, heard Archibald Cox, Watergate prosecutor, plead that they work for a better world.

'I hope you will never beome patient about the gap between what is and what ought to be,' he said. 'The one indestructible human quality is the ability ... to do things for the first time, to do what has never been done.'

Advertisement

At Yale graduates first heard Episcopal Bishop Paul Moore Jr. of New York call the heavy rain, in his benediction, 'the most massive baptism in the history of the United States.'

At class day doings, former astronaut Sen. John H. Glenn Jr., D-Ohio, referring to President Reagan's cuts in federal support for research, said: 'We are killing the goose that laid the golden egg.'

At Southern Connecticut State College, Sen. Christopher Dodd, D-Conn., commented on 'the tragic news of the South Atlantic' -- Great Britain and Argentina in a military conflict over the Falkland Islands.

'How insane these actions are,' he said. 'People are losing their lives over them and I hope we don't get involved in it.'

The remark touched off thunderous applause.

'My only hope is that those who are desperately trying to achieve peace through negotiating a settlement succeed and that tragedy will be averted,' he said.

At Alma College in Alma, Mich., graduates heard from Carl A. Gerstacker, chairman of the board of Dow Chemical Company from 1960 to '76 and now a director emeritus, and Lee A. Iacocca, chairman of the board of Chrysler Corporation.

'I'd like to cut the deficit in half, bring the prime rate down, and get people back to work building cars and houses,' Iacocca said.

Advertisement

'And here's how I'd like to do it:

'Cut the defense budget 5 percent and save $15 billion. I think the world would still be safe for democracy.

'Match that, if you have to, with a 5 percent cut in social programs, including student loans -- and save another $15 billion.

'Then slap a tax on imported oil equal to the difference between the fixed price set by OPEC and what it's actually being sold for on the spot market. And you raise $25 billion of new revenues. The only difference is we get it instead of the Arabs or the oil companies.

'It would work. You know in your gut it would work.'

Gerstacker said America is in trouble 'economically and productively at the present time.'

'But maybe in the longer term, this is good for us. We now clearly see that we have competition... The temptation for us to relax, to go soft, to wander down the easy path to degeneracy should have disappeared. Hopefully it is not too late.

'And I believe we can regain a substantial part of our former productivity in relation to other nations, if we get to work on our problems.

'One of the things I strongly believe is that we must, each of us, as individuals, produce more than we consume.

Advertisement

'Don't be annoyed by the competition. Welcome it for this is what will keep you sharp, and help you keep growing, and make a better person out of you, and a better contributor to our complex, modern society.'

In Waltham, Mass., Louis Sternberg, 57, was wheeled onto the stage at the Brandeis University. Making it to commencement capped a 27-year struggle against adversity, who has been confined to a respirator since stricken with polio in 1955. The artificial lung is his home 90 percent of the time.

Listening to tapes of classroom lectures and paying attention to guidance during weekly visits from faculty, he earned a doctorate in psychology.

For the graduation, Sternberg rode in a wheelchair equipped with a portable respirator.

Latest Headlines