CHESTERTOWN, MD—In remarks that drew from the Apostle Paul, Col. Sanders and Thomas Jefferson, sports journalist and author Frank Deford encouraged the Washington College Class of 2011 to keep their minds open and informed, engage with the world and let life surprise them. He delivered his remarks after receiving an honorary doctor of letters degree at the school’s 228th Commencement ceremony, held Sunday morning, May 22, on the campus lawn.
Deford, A Baltimore native and Gilman School graduate who has been called “the world’s greatest sportswriter,” has authored 16 books and is senior contributing writer at Sports Illustrated. He also is a regular commentator on NPR’s Morning Editionand a senior correspondent for HBO’s Real Sports with Bryant Gumbel. In his Commencement address he used Biblical scripture (Hebrews 13:1) to underline the need for the graduates to constantly widen their circle of acquaintances and friends: “Be not forgetful to entertain strangers, for thereby some have entertained angels unawares.”
“You will probably learn the best lessons in the strangest, most unlikely circumstances,” Deford told the graduates. He shared a humorous anecdote about meeting Kentucky Fried Chicken founder Harland Sanders years ago at a coffee shop counter in Chicago. “As he stood to leave, he told me, ‘Son, I want to give you the most important piece of advice I know: If you want people to listen to you, wear a white suit.”
Deford stressed the importance of reading and staying informed. When it comes to public threats, he said, the Military Industrial Complex that President Eisenhower warned about as he left office has been replaced by an “Entertainment Amusement Complex” that distracts us from what is important.
“It frightens me that the U.S. might well end one night while we are all watching American Idol or Monday Night Football,” he said, adding that Thomas Jefferson’s advice about the need for an informed citizenry remains important today. “Jefferson said, ‘Were it left to me to decide whether we should have a government without newspapers, or newspapers without a government, I should not hesitate a moment to prefer the latter.’ He knew we needed newspapers for the good of the country. Deep, involved, investigative journalism is a bulwark against deceit and chicanery. … Please do not worry about being amused sufficiently,” he told the graduates. “Don’t let us be the first country to be overwhelmed by amusement.”
The 266 graduates (including250 undergraduate degrees and 16 master’s degrees) and their families also heard brief remarks from another honorary degree recipient, Tadataka Yamada, president of the Global Health Program of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. Dr. Yamada, a scientist and scholar in gastroenterology, joined the Gates Foundation in 2006. He oversees more than $7 billion in grants and leads the foundation’s efforts to develop and deliver low-cost, life-saving health tools for the developing world.
After receiving his honorary doctor of science degree, Dr. Yamada reminded the graduates that there is great inequity in the world and cited the “moral tragedy” that his foundation works to remedy—that each year 8 million children around the globe die unnecessarily from diseases that can be treated. He ended with a quote from Bill Gates: “Humanity’s greatest advances are not in its discoveries—but in how those discoveries are applied to reduce inequity.”
In other highlights, the Sophie Kerr Prize for the “best ability and promise for future fulfillment in the field of literary endeavor” was officially awarded to Lisa Beth Jones, an anthropology major from Fork, Md., in the form of a check for $61,062.11. Five days earlier, the Sophie Kerr Committee had honored five finalists and announced Jones the winner at a special event at Poets House in New York City.
General George Washington himself arrived on horseback to award the Medal and Award conferred in his name to the senior who most reflects the ideals of a liberal education. The 2011 George Washington Medal and Award went to Rachel Elizabeth Field, an environmental studies major from West Chester, Pa.
Before leaving the podium, Washington reminded the students to keep in mind a few of his most important Rules of Civility as they entered the world stage. “As you celebrate later, remember rule no. 7: Put not off your clothes in the presence of others, nor go out of your chamber half dressed.” He also stressed what is perhaps the most important of his rules, no. 110: “Labour to keep alive in your breast that little spark of celestial fire called conscience.”
College president Mitchell B. Reiss concluded the program with a final humorous admonition to the graduates: “Up until now, your parents may have viewed you as an investment. Beware, they may now view you as a profit center.”