The Colgate Scene
July 2000
Table of contents
Honorary degree recipients
photos by John D. Hubbard

From the left: William H. Willimon, Ernest J. Gaines, Chester E. Finn Jr., Charles Karelis, Helen Sperling, John McCain [Zoom]

Senator John McCain, commencement speaker: "I have grown old in my country's service. The time for my generation's leadership of our national affairs is passing. Yours has just arrived . . . Let it be the most important of your life's work to remind all of us that we are a part of a great experiment; that people who are free to act in their own interest will conceive their interests in an enlightened way, and will gratefully accept the obligation of freedom to make of our wealth and power a civilization for the ages -- a civilization in which all people share in the promise of Freedom."

William Willimon, baccalaureate speaker: "One reason why we forced you to take a class in poetry is that, while no 19-year-old has ever needed a poem to make love, all 50-year-olds do. While no 20-year-old has ever needed Jane Austen to help you figure yourself out, most 50-year-olds need someone as perceptive as Jane just to give them the courage to get out of bed in the morning. A lot of this stuff we made you do here doesn't kick in until mid-life when, in the words of Dante, you wake up and find yourself lost in a dark wood and don't know the way out. It's then that you may thank God that we at least told you where to go when life at last has made you again to ask, why?
Excerpts from President Charles Karelis's introductions.

Chester E. Finn Jr Doctor of Laws
. . . In a career comprising key positions with Senator Moynihan, both in Washington and India, the assistant secretary-ship of education, a professorship at Vanderbilt and the presidency of the Thomas B. Fordham Foundation, you have spoken out on public issues, and people have listened. You have often been called a national resource . . .

Ernest J. Gaines Doctor of Letters
. . . You have been writing all your life, we are told, beginning on the Louisiana bayou plantation where you lived and worked during your childhood -- and where you read and wrote letters for the old people. At 15 you moved to California, and in the process discovered Steinbeck and Willa Cather and Turgenev and Chekhov at the Vallejo Public Library. At San Francisco State College, and later at Stanford, you polished a writing style that you once described as "strong and simple." You found most novels of the American South to be untrue to your experience. "I wanted to smell that Louisiana earth," you once said, and "feel that Louisiana sun." In your eight novels to date -- works such as The Autobiography of Miss Jane Pittman, A Gathering of Old Men, and A Lesson Before Dying -- you have captured the voice and place of the American South in language and images that we can all understand . . .

John McCain Doctor of Laws
. . . The "Straight-Talk Express" carried your campaign for the Republican presidential nomination across the country, appealing to the patriotism of a broad cross-section of Americans.

During two terms as the Congressman from Arizona, and now in your third term in the Senate seat once held by Barry Goldwater, you have earned a reputation as a leader on such critical national issues as: pork barrel spending, taxation, deregulation, free trade, national defense, foreign policy, the rights of Native Americans, and campaign finance reform . . .

Helen Sperling Doctor of Humane Letters
. . . Witness . . . Teacher . . . For a quarter century now you have been bringing Colgate students and faculty face to face with our humanity. In telling your own story of two years in Nazi concentration camps and years before that in the ghetto, you personalize that tragic period in world history and make us all aware of our responsibility to our fellow man. The meaning of genocide and holocaust come home to us through your experience, and we learn we have a role in protecting human dignity and values. "Save the world," you tell us . . .

William H. Willimon Doctor of Divinity
. . . I'm not sure who was preaching at Duke this morning, but we're glad you took the day off to be here to deliver the baccalaureate address for our Class of 2000. All of us who were in the Chapel this morning now know why you have been named one of the 12 most effective preachers in the English-speaking world. As dean of the chapel and professor of Christian ministry at Duke, you never really left the pastorate. Author of 45 books and 500 articles, as well as a frequent lecturer at pastors' schools and colleges and universities here and abroad, you have had an enormous influence on Christian thinking today . . .

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