- The Washington Times - Tuesday, May 14, 2002

How's this for a free-spirited graduation theme to toss your tassles to: "Work like you don't need money, dance as though no one's watching, love like you've never been hurt, sing as though no one can hear you and live as though heaven is on Earth."
The author is unknown, but what he or she meant is "let loose," as I told one of my 10 journalism students to graduate from the Catholic University of America on Saturday.
Nobody asked me, but if I were honored to give a commencement address I, too, would try to impart some wisdom learned in Life University. You know, those indelible hard-knock lessons marked only by excruciating or exhilarating experiences or that sweaty stuff of survival that they don't teach in textbooks.
For example: Be careful where you sign your name, be it a check, a contract or a marriage license.
Because above all, you must honor your commitments. At the very least, say you're sorry and attempt amends when you can't.
It doesn't take long in the adult arena to discover that the best lessons are the most costly.
Since September, we've learned a lot as a nation. Hopefully we are no longer striving to be the self-centered "me" society. So, the more meaningful attributes and awards of life will undoubtedly be the wise words ringing in the ears of America's Class of 2002.
Service to others, trying and taking risks, and spending more time on what matters most are the common themes at graduation ceremonies this year.
The New York Times also reports that speakers with ties to September 11, who symbolize bravery and heroics, are in vogue this graduation season.
Former Republican New York Mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani, despite controversy, is one of the most sought-after speakers. He is scheduled to speak at Georgetown University this weekend. On Saturday, he told the 3,500 graduates of Syracuse University that tackling their fear is the key to success.
"That's what courage is about it's about managing your fears," Mr. Giuliani said. Further, "You're going to have to do it all your life. I have to do it. You have to do it. If you want to succeed, if you want to be happy, if you want to lead, you have to manage your fears."
This is no different than the advice my Grandma Bea used to give us: "Nothing beats a failure but a try."
So try. Try to be a lifelong learner like Grace Claiborne Johnson-Goodwyn, the 91-year-old grandmother featured by the Associated Press who earned her master's degree in history from Virginia State University on Saturday.
I generally steer clear of words like "never" or "always," but I always underscore this admonition to my students: "Never accept 'no' for an answer."
The actual commencement address at Catholic University was delivered by U.S. Attorney General John D. Ashcroft, who talked about the need to understand that with choice comes consequence. He told the students that to find their way in the future, they must remember to depend on their faith and defend their values.
Good counsel.
As Mr. Ashcroft stated, it takes the courage of your convictions to stay your course. Believe me, there will be plenty of people who'll come along and try their best to derail you.
If Mrs. Johnson-Goodwyn had let people tell her she couldn't go back to school at her age, no telling what the world would have missed from this former elementary school reading teacher turned author-publisher.
Tenacity, for one. She worked hard and just kept showing up for class, even learning a foreign language, which was a requirement for her degree. Her stick-to-it-ivness was an inspiration for students young enough to be her great-grandchildren.
Her son, Roderick Johnson of Petersburg, Va., said education was always emphasized in his family and books were ever-present. And his mother encouraged them to "broaden our minds and explore, take risks and not to limit ourselves."
Clearly, Mrs. Johnson-Goodwyn practices what she preaches.
Sound, standard sentiments were also offered this weekend to students graduating from Howard and the University of the District of Columbia, and at Marymount University where Supreme Court Chief Justice William H. Rehnquist told the 655 graduates to spend time on what matters most.
A powerful man who must know of what he speaks, Justice Rehnquist reportedly suggested that sacrificing everything to a high-powered career can bring its own dissatisfactions.
"The time to help a friend in trouble is now, not two weeks or two years from now," he said. "The nature of the world requires us all to schedule our lives, to some extent. But the totally scheduled person has ruled out in advance the possibility of any spontaneous response to calls for help, or friendship or service. You may tell yourself they you're only postponing the opportunity to do these things, but in fact you're sacrificing it."
Sooner or later, you may regret the sacrifice. Still, we all know that we have to make mistakes, often whoppers, in order to learn lessons never to be repeated.
Again, it boils down to courage and conviction.
On the final exam, I boldly ask my students what they learned from spending 16 weeks listening to me babble.
Some interesting answers: "Never assume anything." "Challenge stereotypes and think critically." "Always be curious." "Read the paper daily." "Never stop reading. The more you read the more you know."
My favorites: "The importance of truth and objectivity is always present." "That my opinion, no matter how strong, needs evidence, and even with evidence, it doesn't always fly." "To keep trying even if you don't get it right the first time."
Who knew they were listening? Maybe I did deliver a commencement address after all.


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