Volume 7, Number 3, 1998

Columnist urges competition for 'general good of society

Sunny skies greeted the 3,000 members of the Class of 1998 who gathered on the field of Delaware Stadium May 30 for the University's 149th Commencement exercises.

The morning's guest speaker, Pulitzer Prize-winning columnist William Raspberry, told the crowd of 24,500 graduates, family and friends that-out of fear-he nearly declined the invitation to speak to them.

"Ten years ago, before you graduates were even in high school, the Sunday magazine of The Washington Post had a frivolous, little piece on commencement speeches," he said. "Silly pomposities, [the writer] called them, that no one wants to hear, least of all the graduates who only want to 'get the diploma, get out and get crazy.'"

In considering what he might say at UD, Raspberry said it became clear that it is impossible to make a commencement speech without resorting to clichés, since any advice he might give must be general. His solution was to invite the graduates to compose their own commencement speeches.

He asked them to contemplate two questions: "What will you be doing when you are my age?" and "How will you be thought of?"

He told them not to be embarrassed if their answer to the first question was, "I don't know."

"Most of you will, by the time you are my age, be doing something utterly unrelated to your majors," Raspberry said. "That does not mean that your years at the University of Delaware will have been a waste. It means only that their value will consist primarily of the generalized information we call liberal arts. What your college education will have given you is some place to stand while you figure out where to go."

In answering the second question, Raspberry shared a suggestion he read in an op-ed piece in The Wall Street Journal and told the graduates to write their own obituaries.

"Think about the plans and priorities you are secretly harboring and ask yourself: What will my obit say?" he said. "All of us want to be remembered-not for our incomes or our expenditures-but for our contributions. And, we do intend to contribute, maybe even to become famous philanthropists."

Raspberry reminded the audience that later is too late to begin making a reputation.

"If you want to be thought of as a solid, reliable pillar of your community when you're 50, you can't be an irresponsible, corner-cutting exploiter at 25....The time to worry about your reputation is before you have one. You determine your reputation by deciding who and what you are and by keeping that lofty vision of yourself in mind, even when you're having a rip-roaring good time."

Raspberry's final advice to graduates was to not compete for money for its own sake but to compete in terms of contributions to the general good of society.

"I don't know how to say it without making it sound like, well, a cliché, but your best shot at happiness, self-worth and personal satisfaction-the things that constitute real success-is not earning as much as you can but in performing as well as you can at something that you know to be worthwhile," he said.

Also at the ceremony, Delaware Gov. Thomas R. Carper presented awards to two students for achieving the highest cumulative grade index: Kyla Renee Olejarczyk of Vandalia, Ohio and Daniel Geoffrey Steinberg of Fredonia, N.Y.

Eli Lesser of Miami Beach, Fla., president of the senior class, announced that the class created a fund for the continuous upkeep of Harrington Beach. In presenting the gift, Lesser said, "Just as 35 previous graduating classes have done before us, we the Class of 1998 have spent many happy hours using Harrington Beach as a place for recreation and relaxation."

The 90-minute ceremony opened with an alumni procession featuring representatives of the classes of the 1930s through 1998, representing the more than 100,000 living alumni of the University throughout the world. Nicole Noelle De Sanctis of Turnersville, N.J., and Douglas Mauro de Lorenzo of North East, Md., were recipients of this year's Warner and Taylor awards as outstanding senior woman and man. DeSanctis, who plans a social service career, maintained a 3.8 grade point average and served as a resident assistant, a student mentor and a campus tour guide. Named a Rhodes Scholar and a member of USA Today's All-USA Academic First Team, de Lorenzo completed both a bachelor's and master's degrees in less than four years and will attend Oxford University in October.

-John Brennan