Lehigh University
Lehigh University


Russert exhorts graduates to help others

That glow was partly from the bright sun of a perfect spring morning, but more so because of their passage into what Gregory Farrington, Lehigh president, termed "life, as in 'real.'"

A total of 1,185 students earned degrees as members of the Class of ’03—902 bachelor's degrees, 239 master's degrees, and 44 doctoral degrees. Of the graduating students, 403 hailed from the local area, and 24 were from countries outside the U.S., from the Bahamas to Germany to Thailand.

The commencement ceremony presented students, faculty, and parents with messages about family values, lifelong learning, and a few humorous anecdotes from keynote speaker Tim Russert, host of Meet the Press and senior vice president of NBC News.

To open the ceremony, Farrington urged the graduates to "be good sons and daughters, fathers and mothers, brothers and sisters, and important members of your civic community."

He then introduced Russert, who he noted had been named "dream dad" by Parents magazine in 1998. For all of the accolades Russert has received in his career at NBC, Farrington said, "to be named dream dad, that's the best, that's a real accomplishment."

`Your charge, your opportunity’

Russert sought to open a dialogue with the graduating students.

"It's not often you have a chance to meet and talk with people with the same background and values, so let me skip the temptation of lecturing and have a brief conversation with the Lehigh Class of 2003," Russert said.

In this conversation, Russert said, "Graduating from Lehigh has given you incredible advantages over others in your generation."

He encouraged graduates to use those advantages to help others. "Remember the people struggling along side of you and below you, the people who have not had the same opportunities, the same blessings, the same education," he said. "There is indeed a very simple truth: No exercise is better for the human heart than reaching down to help another person. That is your charge, your opportunity. That is what it means to be part of the class of 2003 at Lehigh University."

Russert also touched on the role of the media and freedom in America, saying, "to disagree with the president is central to who we are as a people and a nation." Quoting John F. Kennedy's inaugural address, Russert said, "The torch has been passed to a new generation of Americans. Let every nation know which wishes us well or ill, we should pay any price, bear any burden, meet any hardship, support any friend, oppose any foe to ensure the survival and success of liberty."

Being a student and teacher

Russert reminded the graduates not to forget the generations that preceded them, particularly their family members.

"It was your parents and grandparents who defended this country, who brought you into this world in a chance to live the American dream," Russert said. "Will your generation do as much for your own children? You know you will, you know you must."

Katie Breckenridge, senior class president, continued the theme of family with a speech about lifelong learning she said was inspired by her parents--her "heroes."

"To become a lifelong learner," said Breckenridge, "we must learn how to simultaneously live the life of the student and the teacher."

She used the example of Richard Matthews, professor of political science. "It is not by accident that he is a student favorite in the political science department, and although he has won numerous awards for his innovative teaching styles, it’s none of these credentials that place him at the top of our list."

Rather, it's Matthews's tendency to learn from students as well as teaching them that makes him stand out.

"He has made what he believed to be a career in teaching a career in learning," Breckenridge said.

During the ceremony, Farrington conferred honorary doctorate degrees upon four people: Russert; Martha Nussbaum, the Ernst Freund Distinguished Service Professor of Law and Ethics at the University of Chicago who delivered the Lehigh baccalaureate address on Sunday afternoon; Pricilla Payne Hurd, a devoted patron of local institutions of higher education and chair of the Board of Trustees of Moravian College; and Marlene "Linny" Fowler, philanthropist and artist.

--Elizabeth Shimer

Posted on Tuesday, May 20, 2003

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