GREENSBORO, N.C. -- First lady Barbara Bush challenged the 92 members of the 1989 graduating class of Bennett College Sunday to free humanity from the slavery of illiteracy.
In her only commencement address of the year, Mrs. Bush told a crowd of about 2,000 people at the black women's college that Fredrick Douglas, the slave who became a noted 19th Century author, became one of her heroes after she read his autobiography.
In that book, Douglas explained how his master said slaves must not be taught to read for once they were to educated, there would be no barrier to slaves gaining freedom.
'That holds true today. There are all kinds of slavery,' Mrs. Bush said. 'I hope you'll serve the abiding principles we learned when we were young.
'I hope you will say, 'I want to be fair. I want to share. It can be done. I want to help you,'' she said.
Prior to Bush's speech, college President Gloria Scott conferred the degree of Doctor of Humane Letters on the first lady 'because of your accomplishments in the area of education, your special emphasis on reading and literacy and your investment of time and energy to make a difference in the present and future lives of younger and older Americans.'
Mrs. Bush, a mother of five children and 11 grandchildren, called the degree 'a wonderful Mother's Day present.'
President Bush has said he wants to be the 'education' president and the college dubbed his wife 'Education First Lady.' Mrs. Bush has served on the National Board of 'Reading is Fundamental' and is the honorary chairwoman of the National Advisory Council of Literacy Volunteers in America.
Mrs. Bush also noted the work the college does with Bennett College Children's House, a program where students help preschool children learn to read.
'You really are on the cutting edge with the work you do at the Children's House,' Bush said.
The college also conferred a Doctor of Humane Letters degree on William Trent, a former teacher at the college who was the first executive director of the United Negro College Fund.
As the graduation procession made its way to a platform surrounded by large oak trees in the campus quadrangle, a young girl in a pink dress handed the first lady a bouquet of red roses.
Republican Gov. Jim Martin and Rep. Howard Coble, R-N.C., met Barbara Bush at the Triad Regional Airport Sunday morning upon her arrival from Washington. She attended a reception at the residence of Robert Chiles Sr., the chairman of the colleges Board of Trustees, prior to the commencement.