By Kristina Goetz
The Cincinnati Enquirer
As University of Cincinnati graduates celebrated a day that marks the end of all-nighters and dining hall food, famed social justice advocate Coretta Scott King told them Friday to volunteer in their communities.
"Making a commitment to becoming a servant of humanity as a way of life will bring a deeper, much richer sense of fulfillment to your lives no matter what career you choose," said the 77-year-old King, whose husband, civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr., was assassinated in 1968.
Angela Stanvery of Milford got her degree in Fine Arts.
(Ernest Coleman photo)
UC officials awarded nearly 4,000 degrees to graduates before a crowd that included more than 6,000 students, faculty, parents and others in the Fifth Third Arena at Shoemaker Center on the university's Clifton campus.
Several graduates at UC's 185th commencement got caught in a short rain shower as they made their way into the arena, but their wet robes didn't dampen the celebration. Parents and students cheered for one another, and some tossed beach balls across the arena floor.
"I've been eagerly anticipating this moment since I arrived at UC in October," said President Nancy Zimpher, who became the university's 25th, and first woman, president in 2003. "Today is special for me, too, because it's my very first UC commencement."
Before the conferring of degrees, guests paused for a moment of silence in honor of Ronald Reagan, the nation's 40th president, who died this week. His image was projected on the scoreboard screens in the middle of the arena while "Taps" played in the background.
Zimpher presented an honorary doctorate of humane letters to King, who was given a standing ovation. She invoked the words of her slain husband when she told the new graduates to stand firm against all forms of racism, bigotry and discrimination. She encouraged them to work toward social reforms, such as better job training, decent housing for the poor and universal health insurance coverage.
"Always speak out against bigotry wherever it emerges," King said. "If you can make this simple commitment, your life will grow in meaning, purpose and nobility."
Commencement keynote speaker Coretta Scott King.
(Ernest Coleman photo)
King also touched on issues that have affected Cincinnati and encouraged police departments to provide non-violence training for their officers.
"I understand there is great concern among African-Americans here in Cincinnati about police-community relations as a result of the tragic shootings of African-Americans," she said. "To help prevent such tragedy in the future, I think it is very important for every city to have independent police-community review boards.
"I would also recommend non-violence training for all law enforcement personnel."
Michael McLaughlin, a 22-year-old graduate, said he thought the ceremony was inspirational.
"I appreciated what she said about how you don't have to have a great mind or be a great thinker to be a great person," he said, but added that his schedule makes it tough to do volunteer work. The Columbus graduate said he's headed back to classes in a week to start studying toward a master's degree in architecture at UC.
Renay Smith, a 21-year-old graduate from New York City, will start a new job in September as a juvenile probation officer in Cleveland. Smith said King's speech was encouraging.
"The only way to change things is to be active," she said.
Individual colleges and student organizations will hold their own ceremonies to honor graduates' achievements throughout the weekend. Check the UC Web site (www.uc.edu) for times and locations of those events.
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