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George Bush urges graduates to give back
June 22, 1998

George Bush, 41st President of the United States, gave graduating seniors one last history lesson of their college career during Commencement, as he sketched out the enormous changes in the half century since he graduated and the 50 years before that.

He said the world is a better place today because of the end of the Cold War, the tearing down of the Berlin Wall and the lessening of the nuclear threat, but said the country must remain strong.

Text of George Bush's address

"Your four years in the White House were among the most momentous in our nation's history," said President Philip E. Austin.

Bush, who was raised and spent his college years in Connecticut, was the main speaker at twin ceremonies for 2,771 undergraduates during UConn's 115th Commencement in the Harry A. Gampel Pavilion. He received a series of standing ovations from the crowd of students, parents, faculty, staff and dignitaries.

"There is something very special about graduation day," Bush said. "Days like today are when the past intersects with the future. It is also a wonderful day for the family, when the generations come together."

The former U.S. President, who said he had attended graduation ceremonies for each of his five children and recently witnessed his oldest grandson graduate, reached out to the parents and grandparents in the audience. "To the broke but happy parents here, let me tell you that Barbara and I feel your pain," he joked.

But most of his remarks were directed to the Class of 1998, as he guided them through the sweep of history during the past century.

Reminiscing about the 50th reunion weekend at his alma mater, Yale, in 1948 - the year he graduated - he said members of the Class of 1898 were glad still to be alive. "Their generation had been through a lot." They watched in awe as the Wright Brothers' first flight sputtered into the sky and Henry Ford introduced the first automobile, and they survived two world wars and the Great Depression, he said.

Bush went on to highlight key events of the subsequent 50 years, including some that took place while he led the nation, such as the end of the Cold War, the collapse of the Soviet Union, and the ouster of Iraq from Kuwait during the Gulf War.

He paid tribute to UConn students and graduates among the casualties of several wars, naming Cindy Beaudoin, a medical specialist who died during the Gulf War, before she could graduate.

Bringing his address up to the present, Bush criticized what he described as "a strange coalition" emerging across the country among people from the political left and right, that wants to keep the United States from staying involved in world affairs. "We must not listen to that siren's call of protection and isolation," he said.

He ended with a challenge to the Class of 1998. "You have a shot at a world that is far more peaceful, far more prosperous, much freer and more democratic, than the Class of 1898 or of 1948," he said. "Great professors have given you a great education. ... And you've been blessed to forge friendships that will last you a lifetime.

"My question is what are you going to do with your life? Will you constantly gripe and complain ... or will you roll up your sleeves and get involved and put something back?" he asked. "There can be no definition of a successful life that does not include service to others."

Two members of the graduating class played a leading role in the ceremonies. Albert Lee, a vocal performance major, who sang the National Anthem and Kristen Sandstrom, the senior class representative.

Although goals are important, said Sandstrom, a psychology major, "contentment is found in the journey, not in the end of the road." Sandstrom holds three of the University's highest academic distinctions - as University Scholar, Babbidge Scholar and honors scholar - and has a four-year grade point average of 3.958 out of a possible 4.0.

This year, for the first time, students who completed the requirements for the University honors programs wore special cords around their necks to honor academic excellence. Students who graduated with distinction wore silver; honors scholars wore gold, and University Scholars wore gold and navy blue. The cords were funded through an endowment set up for the Honors Program by Trustee Richard Treibick.

During the ceremonies, the University bestowed on Bush an honorary Doctor of Laws degree. Raymond and Beverly Sackler, who are among the nation's most generous philanthropists in both the sciences and the arts, each received an honorary Doctor of Humane Letters.

"Your friendship and generosity have helped this University move closer to its own ideals of excellence," President Austin told the Sacklers, as they received their degrees.

On Sunday, graduate commencement speaker Varro E. Tyler exhorted advanced degree recipients to use their intellectual interests to benefit others, invoking such diverse figures as Alexander Fleming, Mother Theresa, Princess Diana, and Henry David Thoreau.

"You students who are graduating today have been exceptionally fortunate in being able to carry out advanced studies in the field that interests you most," Tyler said to the 1,155 master's degree candidates, 273 doctoral students, and 47 educators receiving their sixth year certificate. "While knowledge in and of itself is good, it becomes most useful when employed for the benefit of humankind."

Tyler, who in 1953 earned the first Ph.D. in pharmacy awarded by UConn, acknowledged the intrigue of scholarly pursuits, citing Fleming's notebook entry, "I was sufficiently interested to pursue the subject." Those words, he said, were written by Fleming as he began studying a mold culture that led to his discovery of penicillin.

But he also said that education was as much about acquiring values as it was a pursuit of facts and discovery. "Permit me to urge you not just to know values, but to implement them in such a way that others may benefit," said Tyler, a seminal figure in the field of pharmacognosy - the study of herbal and natural medications.

Tyler was one of three honorary degree recipients at the ceremony, receiving the Doctor of Science degree. He was joined by Frank McCourt, author of the Pulitzer Prize-winning memoir Angela's Ashes, who was presented with a Doctor of Letters, and Alphonse Chapanis, the noted psychologist and "father of ergonomics," who received a Doctor of Science. Chapanis is a member of the University's Class of 1937.

Also on Sunday, U.S. Circuit Court Judge Jose A. Cabranes cautioned 214 aspiring attorneys who graduated from the School of Law that an education in the law offers a great vehicle for personal transformation and advancement, but also confers a public trust that must be exercised responsibly.

"I welcome you to this unusual and very American aristocracy - an aristocracy of merit to which all may aspire; an aristocracy not of privilege, but of service; an aristocracy that demands hard work, good judgment and integrity, Cabranes told the recipients of 193 Juris Doctor and 21 Master of Laws degrees.

The majority of the graduates do not have to worry about what to do next. Nine in 10 of the graduates already are employed at law firms or by other businesses in Connecticut. Many face yet another hurdle - the bar exam - but should consider themselves well prepared: the School of Law maintains a 95 percent pass rate for all first-time takers of the bar.

Cabranes, who received an honorary Doctor of Laws, was born in Puerto Rico. He was appointed to the federal bench in 1979 by President Jimmy Carter, the first Puerto Rican to be appointed to the federal bench in the continental United States. In 1994, he was appointed to the Second Circuit Court of Appeals by President Bill Clinton, having served for 15 years as a U.S. District Judge for the District of Connecticut.

At the Stamford campus on May 20, the University conferred an honorary Doctorate of Fine Arts on Jack Paar, entertainment pioneer and legend. Parr, a Greenwich resident, received the award - the first given at the downtown Stamford campus - at a dinner hosted by the Board of Trustees.

Called the "founding father of television talk show," Parr, the originator of The Tonight Show, said he was deeply honored to receive the degree. "How do I say this? I'm a legend but I never was award winning. I never won an Emmy, I never won anything. I'm grateful and it's about time."

Parr's presentation, filled with the one-liners for which he is famous, was followed by video clips of his show and from his personal library.

During ceremonies at the Health Center on May 21, Doctor of Medicine degrees were presented to 78 students, and Doctor of Dental Medicine degrees to 41 aspiring dentists. Health Center graduates were addressed by David A. Kessler, dean of the Yale University School of Medicine, who was commissioner of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration from 1990-1997.

Renu Aldrich, Karen Grava William, David Pesci and Richard Veilleux contributed to this story.