On behalf of his friends Kermit the Frog. Miss Piggy, the Swedish Chef, the Great Ganzo and dozens of other Muppets. Jim Henson became an honorary doctor of fine arts yesterday at the University of Maryland.
"We would never underestimate the value of people who can make us laugh," Chancellor Robert L. Gluckstern of the university's College Park campus told Henson before a crowd of cheering graduates and their families.
Human beings cannot always work and work. They must have some amusement in their lives." Gluckstern said at Maryland's annual commencement exercises at Cole Field House.
Henson, who grew up in Hyattsville and graduated from Maryland in 1960, is the creator of the Muppets - a collection of comic puppets who do humorous and satirical skits on television - daily on "Sesame Street" and weekly on "The Muppets Show."
"This is neat. I've never had an honor like this before," said Henson, who arrived at College Park yesterday with his wife Jane and three of their five children to receive the honorary degree.
A graduate of Prince George's County's Northwestern High School, Henson began working with puppets in the summer before he entered Maryland because, he said, "I wanted to get work in television."
By the end of his freshman year, he was doing a late night television show called "Sam and Friends" broadcast on Channel 4 locally. The show became a hit instantly and remained so for several years.Henson recalled yesterday that by the time he graduated he was doing so well that "I came to my own graduation in a Rolls-Royce."
"But it was an old Rolls-Royce," interjected his wife, who met Henson in a puppetry class at the university.
While still and undergraduate, Henson created Kermit the Frog in 1957. That makes Kermit about the same age as most of the 3,650 degree recipients yesterday at College Park.
After graduation, there were multiple bookings for the Muppets - the term is actually a combination of the words marionette and puppet - on the "Today" and the "Tonight" shows and on variety shows like "The Ed Sullivan Show." For three years, Rowlf the Dog was resident comedian on "The Jimmy Dean Show."
Figuratively speaking at least, with the awarding of yesterday's degree, such creatures as Fozzie Bear and Emmett the Otter now take their place alongside the corps of eminent jurists, noted philosophers, learned scholars and sitinguished statement who annually receive honorary degrees at graduation time.
"Puppetry has long been an important means for expression of the human experience," the citation on Henson's diploma said. "Jim Henson's imaginative mind and skilled hands have explored and extended the horizons of this ancient art form and given it new dimensions and new life."
"His zany characters, especially those from "Sesame Street," enrich the lives of millions of children, assist them to a greater understanding of what it means to be human and help develop in them important basic language and number skills."
Included in yesterday's degree granting were 3,000 bachelor's degrees, 512 master's degrees and 138 doctorates. Prince George's County Executive WinfieldsM. Kelly was among those who got a bachelor's degree.
In a final commencement address at College Park, retiring university president Wilson H. Elkins told the graduates "You have an obligation [WORD ILLEGIBLE] support education . . . It cannot be taken for granted . . . It is the individual's best assurance that he or she may enjoy the benefits of civilization."