UConn News HomeUConn News

George Bush urges Class of '98 to get involved, put something back (Released: 5/16/98)

by Elizabeth Omara-Ottunu, Office of University Communications.

Storrs , Conn. -- George Herbert Walker Bush, 41st President of the United States, gave University of Connecticut graduates one last history lesson of their college career today (May 16, 1998), as he sketched out the enormous changes in the half century since he graduated and the 50 years before that.

Text of George Bush's address
He said the world is a better place today because of the end of the Cold War, the tearing down of the Berlin Wall and the lessening of the nuclear threat, but said the U.S. must remain strong.

Bush, who was raised and spent his college years in Connecticut, was the main speaker at twin ceremonies for 2,771 undergraduates today during UConn's 115th Commencement.

He received a series of standing ovations from the crowd of students, parents, faculty, staff and dignitaries as he entered the Harry A. Gampel Pavilion, received an honorary degree, and during and after his Commencement address.

He challenged the Class of 1998. "As we move into the next millennium, your class has a shot at a world that is far more peaceful, far more prosperous, much freer and more democratic, than the Class of 1898 or of 1948," he said.

"The world you enter today is far from perfect but you have been blessed. Great professors have given you a great education. ... You've been blessed to forge friendships that will last a lifetime, until your 50th reunion and beyond. And you have been blessed by the abiding love of your parents which has guided you and the values they've taught you that will sustain you in success and hard times alike.

Audio of George Bush
"My question is what are you going to do with your life? Will you constantly gripe and complain when things go wrong ... or will you roll up your sleeves and get involved and put something back?" he asked. "Your country needs you and is counting on you.

"There can be no definition of a successful life that does not include service to others," he added.

"Few Americans in this century have held so many high positions with such distinction or been so well prepared for national leadership," said UConn President Philip E. Austin, as the University bestowed on Bush an honorary Doctor of Laws degree. "Your four years in the White House were among the most momentous in our nation's history."

Governor John G. Rowland, who introduced Bush, said, "George Bush led our nation to prosperity, to world peace and domestic tranquility."

"There is something very special about graduation day," Bush said. "Days like today are days when the past intersects with the future. It is also a wonderful day for the family, when the generations come together."

The former U.S. President, who said he had attended graduation ceremonies for each of his five children and recently witnessed his oldest grandson graduate from Rice University in Houston, reached out to the parents and grandparents in the audience. "To the broke but happy parents here, let me say that Barbara and I feel your pain," he joked.

But most of his remarks were directed primarily to the Class of 1998, as he guided them through the sweep of history during the past century.

He reminisced about the 50th reunion weekend at his alma mater, Yale, in 1948 — the year he graduated. He said members of the class 50 years before him, the Class of 1898, were glad still to be alive. "Their generation had been through a lot," he said. They watched in awe as the Wright Brothers took their historic first flight and Henry Ford introduced the first automobile, and they survived two world wars and the Great Depression, he said.

Bush went on to highlight key events of the next 50 years, including some that took place while he led the nation, such as the end of the Cold War, the collapse of the Soviet Union, and the ouster of Iraq from Kuwait during the Gulf War. He also mentioned the debut and development of television, the rise and fall of the Berlin Wall, the threat of nuclear war and the "ghastly wars with unhappy endings" in Korea and Vietnam.

He paid tribute to UConn students and graduates among the casualties of several wars, naming Cindy Beaudoin, of PLAINFIELD, Conn., a medical specialist who died during the Gulf War, before she could graduate. "People like her give the phrase 'duty, honor and devotion' true meaning," he said, "and stand as an inspiration to the rest of us."

Bringing his address up to the present, Bush said "Things are very different now in this world of ours," despite continuing threats such as international terrorism, religious fundamentalism and the spread of weapons of mass destruction. "All these and more explain why the U.S. must stay involved in the world and why we must lead," he said. He criticized what he described as "a strange coalition" emerging in Washington and across the country among people from the political right and left, people who want to keep the United States from staying involved in world affairs.

"We must not listen to that siren's call of protection and isolation," he said. He added that the United States must not neglect Asia and must attend to "the most important bilateral relationship in the world today," the U.S.-China relationship.

"Treat great nations with respect," he said, "while never moving one inch on human rights."

During the morning ceremony, 1,062 candidates for graduation from the College of Agriculture and Natural Resources and the Schools of Allied Health,

Nursing, Family Studies, Fine Arts, Pharmacy, Engineering and Continuing Education received diplomas. Students enrolled in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences — UConn’s largest, with 1,143 graduates this year — and the Schools of Education and Business, for a total of 1,709, followed in the afternoon.

Kristen Sandstrom of SIMSBURY, Conn., the senior class representative, a psychology major who holds three of the University's highest academic distinctions — as University Scholar, Babbidge Scholar and honors scholar— and has a four-year grade point average of 3.958 out of a possible 4.0, presented the Class of 1998.

She said that although goals are important, "contentment is found in the journey, not at the end of the road. ... It's the things that make us happy along the way that make the battle worth fighting."

The National Anthem was sung by Albert Lee of NEW HAVEN, Conn., a vocal performance major

and honors student, who is a member of the graduating class.

Raymond and Beverly Sackler, among the nation’s most generous philanthropists in both the sciences and the arts, each received an honorary Doctor of Humane Letters. The Sacklers have supported the University's Thomas J. Dodd Research Center, the Raymond and Beverly Sackler Distinguished Lecture Series at UConn, which brings internationally renowned speakers to campus each year to discuss human rights, and the Artist-in-Residence program.

"Your friendship and generosity have helped this University move closer to its own ideals of excellence," President Austin told the Sacklers as they received their degrees.

On Sunday, May 17, Varro E. Tyler, '51 M.S., '53 Ph.D., a retired professor of pharmacognosy and a leader in the field of herbal and natural medicine, will address 1,155 master’s degree candidates, 273 doctoral students, and 47 educators who will receive their sixth year certificate. The 3 p.m. ceremonies also will take place in Gampel Pavilion.

Tyler will be accompanied on the platform by author Frank McCourt, who wrote the acclaimed novel Angela’s Ashes, and another UConn alumnus, Alphonse Chapanis, widely considered the father of ergonomics.

Similar celebrations will occur at 10:30 a.m. tomorrow, at the UConn School of Law in Hartford, where U.S. Circuit Court Judge Jose Cabranes will deliver the commencement address to about 220 graduates at the law school on Elizabeth Street.

And, during ceremonies at the UConn Health Center at 5:30 p.m. May 21, Doctor of Medicine degrees will be presented to 78 students, and Doctor of Dental Medicine degrees will be awarded to 41 aspiring dentists. Health Center graduates will be addressed by David A. Kessler, commissioner of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration from 1990-1997, who is now dean of the Yale University School of Medicine.