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Historian David McCullough urges
graduates: Read, read, read!
June 21, 1999

ulitzer-Prize winning author David McCullough was clear and direct in his advice to the Class of 1999: "Read, read, read."

Speaking at the University's 116th commencement exercises May 15, McCullough told the graduates to "take a book wherever you go." Considered one of this country's greatest historians, McCullough received an honorary Doctor of Letters degree and then delivered the keynote address at dual ceremonies in the Harry A. Gampel Pavilion. During the ceremonies,

a total of more than 2,700 undergraduates were awarded degrees.

"I stand here ... in this center of learning, to sing again the old faith in books, in reading books, reading for life," McCullough said.

He warned the Class of 1999 not to rely on the Internet and its vast amounts of information for education. "Information is not learning. Information isn't wisdom. It isn't common sense, necessarily. It isn't kindness or trustworthiness or good judgment or imagination or a sense of humor or courage. It doesn't tell us right from wrong," he said.

McCullough, who won the Pulitzer in 1992 for his biography, Truman, recommended that students read Common Sense by Thomas Paine, the autobiography of Frederick Douglass, and Silent Spring by Rachel Carson. "Nothing ever invented provides such sustenance, such infinite reward for time spent, as a good book."

McCullough said the average American watches 28 hours a week of television, and could read huge numbers of classics by opening a book instead of turning on the television.

Betsy Alspaugh, of Russell, Pa., the senior class representative, who presented the class to President Philip E. Austin, told her fellow graduates that success can be attained if they "think with their hearts" rather than merely trying to gather the most toys.

Alspaugh, who achieved a 3.957 grade point average going into her final semester as an undergraduate, also is an Honors Scholar and a University Scholar, two of the highest academic designations a student can attain. And, as an honors student majoring in education, she completed a thesis studying how teachers can better work with students who have hearing impairments.

Four faculty members who excel in teaching were honored as 1999-2000 University Teaching Fellows during the commencement exercises: John Ayers, an associate professor of electrical & systems engineering; Cecile Hurley, a lecturer in chemistry; Stephen Jones, a professor of English at the Avery Point campus; and Jonna Kulikowich, an associate professor of educational psychology.

Teaching fellows are selected each year by their peers based on teaching excellence and dedication to the teaching profession. They present workshops on teaching, serve as mentors to younger faculty, and open their classrooms to teaching assistants.

Also during the undergraduate ceremonies, Frank D. Rich Jr., of Darien, a Connecticut business leader, philanthropist and former UConn trustee, was awarded an honorary Doctor of Laws degree.

Graduate ceremony
Candidates for graduate degrees May 16 were treated to an exploration of the history of intellectual thought from Noam Chomsky, who has been described as "arguably the most important intellectual alive."

Chomsky, a professor at MIT who attained legendary stature as a seminal theoretician in the field of linguistics, drew on his academic specialty to illuminate topics at the heart of the intellectual endeavor for 1,077 master's degree candidates, 225 doctoral students, and 39 educators receiving their sixth-year certificate.

For the candidates for research degrees in particular, many of whom spent several years developing a small piece of the overall picture of their discipline, this intellectual giant provided a sense of perspective, drawing on what he described as "the last great mountain range that the natural sciences might hope to scale" - the field of cognitive science.

Offering illustrations from the contributions of some of the world's greatest thinkers, from Galileo to Newton, Darwin, Hume, Locke and 20th-century philosopher Bertrand Russell, Chomsky demonstrated that - without the benefit of hindsight - the course of intellectual evolution is far from predetermined.

Chomsky said that although a great deal of groundbreaking work has been done in cognitive science - some of it at the University of Connecticut - there are still mysteries that have not yet been solved.

He noted the optimism of the word "yet," based on the assumption that the mystery will be solved in the future. But he also sounded a warning note, that no one can guess what might be necessary for a particular problem to be solved.

School of Law
Harry T. Edwards, Chief Judge of the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia, told graduates at the School of Law May 16 that a lawyer's duty is not solely to his clients but to the public good.

Recalling the words of influential educators, leaders and philosophers such as Martin Luther King Jr., Marian Wright Edelman and Frederick Douglass, Edwards told the graduates never to work just for money, not to be afraid of taking risks or being criticized, and never to confuse legality with morality.

More importantly, today's graduates must remember that the fellowship of human beings is more important than the fellowship of gender, race or class, he said.

"Keep asking yourself, 'How can I make a return on all the good that has come my way in life?'" he said.

About 200 graduates received either a master of laws or juris doctor degree. Edwards, one of the most prominent African-American legal figures in the nation, who was appointed Chief Judge in 1994, received an honorary degree.

He urged each graduate to find the one thing he or she could offer to the larger task. He said a person does not need to be powerful to make a difference: "You just need to be a flea for justice biting for a better world."

On May 14, during a joint Army/Air Force Reserve Officer Training Corps (ROTC) commissioning ceremony, Major Gen. Everett G. Odgers discussed the changes facing U.S. military operations.

Odgers, director of Budget Operations and Personnel, Deputy Assistant Secretary of the Air Force in the Pentagon, is responsible for planning and directing formulation of Air Force operations, and maintenance and military personnel budgets totaling $36 billion annually.

During the event, 18 ROTC cadets were commissioned as second lieutenants, 11 in the U.S. Army and seven in the U.S. Air Force.

Health Center
More than 150 soon-to-be doctors and dentists received their diplomas May 20 at the Health Center, and heard from Abraham Verghese, a professor of medicine in the Division of Infectious Diseases at Texas Tech University Health Sciences Center in El Paso. During the ceremony, scientist Harold Slavkin, director of the National Institute of Dental Research, received an honorary degree. Slavkin has investigated the genetic origins of normal and abnormal craniofacial, oral and dental development.

Elizabeth Omara-Otunnu
Richard Veilleux