University of Rochester

Rochester Graduates Hear Words of Advice for Today's World

May 18, 2003

ROCHESTER, N.Y.-Graduates at the 153rd commencement of the University of Rochester were urged, against the background of current events, to practice the Golden Rule, be vigilant about democracy, and get involved in their communities.

"Treat others with respect and compassion, as you yourself would like to be treated," said Myles Brand, president of the National Collegiate Athletic Association. Brand, who received his doctorate in philosophy at Rochester in 1967, was presented the Hutchison Medal, the University's highest award for alumni.

Brand was one of three honorees at the commencement ceremony for graduates receiving bachelor's and master's degrees in the College of Arts, Sciences, and Engineering. Kenneth Olden, director of the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences, received an honorary Doctor of Science degree. Writer John A. Williams received an honorary Doctor of Humane Letters degree. Each of the honorees spoke briefly.

Noting that the graduates were about to enter a world plagued by corporate financial scandals, beset by threats to regional and world peace, and wary of technology that could be used to manipulate truth, Brand warned that "Your integrity and your compassion to humankind will be challenged by self interest and base pragmatism." Admitting his advice sounded old-fashioned, Brand told students they nevertheless can and should make a moral difference.

Williams bemoaned the inability of world leaders to learn from history. Referring first to the League of Nations, formed after World War I with the purpose of preventing another major war, he continued, "We helped form the United Nations, but we have also helped to cripple it."

He cautioned graduates that "We need to strengthen the institutions that have served us well, because democracy does not care for itself, it needs tending to. We need to care about it and stop talking and bragging about it, because the history is there to refute a great deal we are told to be thankful for. And what is good and verifiable, we must hold onto, more than ever. That, now, will be your job."

Olden urged students to "get involved, don't stand on the sidelines." Pointing to scholarly studies that document a growing detachment among Americans, he asked them to practice civic engagement.

"Raise your family. Turn your ideas into new inventions. Leave your mark on the world," he said. "But most of all, open your minds so you can feel the joy and pain and suffering of your fellow Americans. By getting involved, you can enlarge your own life and you can make a difference in the lives of millions of people worldwide."

Olden is the first African American to serve as director of one of the 19 institutes of the National Institutes of Health. A cell biologist and biochemist by training, he was elected to membership in the Institute of Medicine of the National Academy of Science for his research contributions to cell and cancer biology. Olden also is director of the National Toxicology Program and oversaw the development of the Environmental Genome Project, which studies the relationship between genetics, environmental factors, and diseases. He has earned many awards, including the Presidential Distinguished Executive Rank Award and the NIH Quality of Life Award.

A prolific novelist, essayist, journalist, and poet, Williams has been described as the finest African-American novelist of his generation. His 1967 best-selling novel, The Man Who Cried I Am, is considered a contemporary classic, and his non-fiction work includes books on Martin Luther King, Jr., Malcolm X, and Africa. Williams was a correspondent for Ebony, Jet, and Newsweek magazines. He also taught at Boston University, the University of Houston, and Rutgers University, from which he retired in 1994 as the Paul Robeson Professor of English. Williams' personal and professional papers are in the collections of the University of Rochester Libraries.

Brand is the first former University president to head the NCAA. During his tenure as president of Indiana University, he initiated the Strategic Directions Project to make the university more efficient and accountable; oversaw the consolidation of the Indiana University Medical Center Hospitals and Methodist Hospital; and signed the first-of-its-kind licensing agreement with Microsoft Corporation, giving students, faculty, and staff free access to Microsoft products. He gained national attention in September 2000 for dismissing legendary basketball coach Bobby Knight for violating a zero-tolerance behavior code

Rochester's famously unreliable weather cooperated for the College commencement. The 6,000 people at the ceremony, held outdoors on the main Eastman Quadrangle, used program books to shield their eyes against the sun in the cloudless sky. An occasional breeze blew in from the adjacent Genesee River, keeping temperatures pleasantly moderate.

The morning ceremony was for the 1,251 candidates for bachelor's and master's degrees in the College of Arts, Sciences, and Engineering. Separate commencement ceremonies also were held today for the Eastman School of Music, Margaret Warner Graduate School of Education and Human Development, and the School of Nursing. The University of Rochester is conferring a total of 2,468 bachelor's, master's, and doctoral degrees this year, including the School of Medicine and the William E. Simon Graduate School of Business Administration.