Grads' Next Assignment: Forge a Path of Service

By Elissa Silverman
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, May 23, 2008

The parking lots outside the Comcast Center were packed, the concession stands were selling french fries and thousands of adoring fans filled seats all the way up to the nosebleed sections.

They were in the stands to cheer on this year's graduates of the University of Maryland in College Park, which held its 242nd commencement ceremony at the sports arena last night.

More than 6,500 diplomas will be awarded this spring from the flagship public university, including 4,677 bachelor's degrees. They will be handed out today at ceremonies at the school's colleges.

Using education to advance the public good was an overarching theme throughout the evening, which featured remarks from a self-labeled "drop-out" of the school.

Award-winning journalist Carl Bernstein, who attended classes on the College Park campus in the 1960s, told those in cap and gown that "part of your leaving here today is finding that path to do what you love and to serve yourself and serve others."

Bernstein and fellow Washington Post reporter Bob Woodward were the lead reporters on the Watergate break-in and coverup, which led to the resignation of President Richard M. Nixon and a Pulitzer Prize for public service for The Post.

In reminiscing about his career, Bernstein delivered an indictment of the current state of politics and media.

"That notion of the public good -- the underpinning of our politics and our media and our national life -- has been too undermined and overwhelmed by self-interest, careerism, bipartisan assertion and by ideological and cultural warfare at the expense of the national interest," Bernstein said.

He said that even during the turmoil of Watergate, the American system of checks and balances prevailed. Now, he said, "it's clear that something's not working in the American system."

But he said he saw hope in those assembled before him and implored the graduates to follow several guiding principles, including being a good listener and letting facts tell a story.

He shared his belief that journalism was the pursuit of the "best obtainable version of the truth."

The ceremony also recognized notable members of the Class of 2008.

Peter DeMuth, a native of Towson who completed majors in chemical and biomolecular engineering as well as biochemistry, received the University Medal for outstanding scholarship and community service. One of his professors called DeMuth "the best undergraduate student whom I have encountered in my nearly 30 years at the university."

"Yeah, that's worth applauding," university President C.D. Mote Jr. said.

This year's commencement featured the first graduates of a master's program focused on environmentally sustainable real estate development.

More than 500 bachelor's degrees were awarded in criminal justice majors, the most popular field among this year's class. Rounding out the top five were economics, finance, government and politics, and psychology.

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