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Bill Cosby urges graduates to take responsibility (Released: 5/18/96)

by Thomas Becher, Office of University Communications.

STORRS, Conn. -- Actor and comedian Bill Cosby, employing his unique brand of humor, encouraged University of Connecticut graduates to take responsibility for themselves by paying off student loans and honoring parents and professors who got them through college.

"I would like you to start your next step by being honest to yourself," Cosby said during morning undergraduate ceremonies Saturday marking the University's 113th Commencement. "I'd like you to find in your mind those professors that you didn't give it all to. The one you took a C from. And I want you to write that professor a letter because you know you could have done better. You're going to start your next step by being honest and making a professor very happy. That professor will feel pretty good -- and that will wipe your slate clean. It's an important step."

Cosby, who wore a UConn women's basketball cap rather than a mortar board, also urged graduates to be responsible financially. "Pay off your student loans," he said. "Somebody paid off their loan and you got in. If you guys don't pay your loans off, more and more people coming behind you are not going to be allowed in."

About 2,785 bachelor degrees were awarded in twin morning and afternoon ceremonies. Sanford Cloud Jr., president and chief executive officer of The National Conference, spoke at the afternoon ceremony, which also featured an honorary degree and musical tribute for composer and producer Quincy Jones.

In honoring Cosby with an honorary Doctor of Fine Arts degree, UConn President Harry J. Hartley, celebrating his sixth and final Commencement as president, said Cosby believes that a satisfying and rewarding life begins with knowledge.

"He has, in fact, applied this advanced education in his professional life," Hartley said. "He has never stopped realizing the importance of challenging himself. Bill Cosby continues to work, not because he must, but because he wants that challenge, to clarify questions. And he loves the excitement of discovery."

Cosby entertained the crowd and elicited constant laughter in a free- wheeling address without a script. He told the story of his daughter after her graduation.

"'Where are you going?' I asked her. 'Home,' she said. 'Oh really? Do you live near us?'"

He said parents will continue to play an important role in the lives of graduates.

"Supposedly there are no jobs. What are you going to do? Well, your parents are always there," he said. "They will always be there for you. They're strange people, parents. You could be worth $2 million a year and they still worry about you. When my mother died seven years ago, she left me $70,000 because she wanted something for me to fall back on. Had she been alive, I would have said, 'Mom, it's going to be a hell of a fall.'"

As degrees were given out, Cosby walked along the floor of Gampel Pavilion, greeting faculty and students. He posed for pictures and brought smiles to the faces of the crowd with comedic poses and expressions and hugs and kisses.

Cosby is one of the most influential stars in America today, appearing on television and in films, commercials, concerts and recordings. He starred in "The Cosby Show" from 1984-92. His book Fatherhood became the fastest-selling hardcover book of all time and his book Time Flies had the largest single first printing in publishing history.

His latest television series, "The Cosby Mysteries," appears on NBC. He has developed a new half-hour series that begins this fall.

Long after Cosby had achieved success, he went back to college, earning a master's degree and a doctorate in education. He has been a strong supporter of education and philanthropy.

"I've heard speeches when they tell you you're going forth and into the world. This is stupid. You've seen the world, been out there. You just keep coming back. The truth is responsibility. You guys have some responsibility now. You can't blame anyone. We take for granted that you spent four or five years here and that you passed and that you now have common sense. There's more that's expected of you."

In closing, Cosby added, "I hope that most of you have come away with some friends that are genuine, people who you'd never thought you'd hook up with for the rest of your life."

The senior class representative, Anjli Garg of Roxbury, also addressed graduates, parents and faculty.

"We have been introduced to faculty who have taught us lessons beyond those confined to blackboards and bubble sheets," said Garg, who earned straight A's in her four years at UConn. "We are prepared to meet the challenges of the open road."

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