Don Johnson! "Oh my God have mercy!" gasped Kimberly Dillard, the breathless owner of one red Don Johnson autograph.

Last night at the Kennedy Center, the teen-age Dillard, her mother Eileen and her friend Megan Monroe had planned for a refined, romantic evening of American Ballet Theatre and "Don Quixote." Perhaps they secretly had hoped for a surprise glimpse of Mikhail Baryshnikov. Instead, they got ld,10 a look at the star of "Miami Vice."

"I should have had him sign my blouse," murmured Eileen Dillard, leaning against the glass door, watching Johnson disappear into a limousine. "I'll be up all night."

Johnson was in town to receive the American College Theatre Festival's 1986 Citation of Excellence at the Terrace Theater. "Thank you. I am truly honored to be in the company of past honorees Lynn Fontanne, Peter Falk and Helen Hayes," he said.

Pause. The expectant audience waited.

"I am searching for words of appreciation," he said. Pause.

"But then, as most of you who watch the show know, I spend most of my time searching for words." And the "Miami Vice" cognoscenti died and went to heaven, laughing with the grinning Johnson.

He put his right leg forward, tugged on his tuxedoed leg and said, "I wore socks!" He had done more than that: He had shaved.

Cleanshaven, wearing socks and standing in the bright stage lights, he looked every bit the heartthrob that he is. The University of Kansas alumnus reflected on the occasion, that celebrates the talent of collegiate thespians: "I fulfilled my dreams: to go to college and to study acting."

Squinting into the audience, he said, "I didn't pass all the auditions, but I was lucky enough to pass the few that made the difference." The difference for him and millions of adoring fans.

His search for words ended when he expressed feelings of "honor," "appreciation" and "pride" upon receiving the honorary award. Into the thoroughly upholstered Terrace Theater the audience sent an appreciative blend of applause and shrieks.

After the competition among the dozen finalists who performed individual and two-person scenes from a variety of plays, Johnson said, "I'm glad it's them and not me." He then announced the winners: Tim Gregory of Otterbein College in Ohio; and Kevin Hardesty of the University of Kentucky.

Hardesty, 21, receiving his award, said "I feel like I'm at the Oscars. Don's here . . . "

Don sure was there! He made an attempt to join the reception after the ceremony, but never got much beyond the swarm of fans attempting to touch him, see him, meet him and be photographed with him. His advice for the winners? "Perseverance." Doesn't he ever get tired of crowds swallowing him up? "I don't think anyone ever gets tired of being appreciated," he said, signing his name, smiling and persevering.