Yes, Gov. Harry Hughes made an appearance at the 114th graduation of Bowie State College yesterday, but the stars of the day were the 70-degree weather, warm spring breezes and the 400 graduates of this black college tucked into the hills near the Patuxent River.
Chairs from the audience section were plucked from strict rows, despite the watchful eyes of the campus Reserve Officers Training Corps, and regrouped into more intimate circles of a few adults and a child or two. The choir delved into a few lusty spirituals, then the choir members settled back to fan themselves under the shade of one of two large trees. Someone even brought a chaise longue.
The governor, mindful of the mood of the day, restricted his remarks to a couple of jokes and few gentle reminders of the responsibilities of the young and the educated. "This is a great day, and it's obviously your day, you graduates of 1982," said Hughes, "Sitting there, all full of knowledge. Bursting at the seams. Hoping this will hurry up and get over."
But for many of the 400 graduates, the road to that day had been such a long one that Hughes could have gone on as long as he chose, if only that the day might be savored a few minutes more. Yasmeen Betty Williams, 27, and a singer with Washington's own a cappella group, Sweet Honey in the Rock, had squeezed her education between concert dates, recording sessions and world tours. "This is almost as exciting as going to Japan," said Williams, who received a standing ovation from the choir as she accepted her BA in English. "You know, it took me almost eight years to get this thing." Now, Williams said, she wants to go to law school.
Margaret G. Klinger, 73, the oldest graduate, had fled the Nazis in Austria, Belgium and France, before settling in Oxon Hill, raising two daughters and minding a grandchild. She had always intended to go back to school, she said, just hadn't had time before.
"First it was Hitler, then it was here--we had to start a new life. Then the two children." Klinger, who was graduated with honors, was inducted into the psychology honor society and won awards in French and poetry. "You use it or you lose it," she said. "What can I say? I like to learn. I'm just sorry it's all over."
It was the governor's first visit to Bowie State College, which began in 1865 as a Baltimore "normal" school--a place, according to public affairs director Agnes Brown, "where if you finished the fourth grade you could teach the first and third." It moved to its present site in Prince George's County in 1911, and became one of Maryland's 11 state-assisted schools in the 1930s. The school has been involved only in higher education since then. Like many black colleges, its mission was to produce teachers. Beginning in the 1960s, however, liberal arts classes were offered, and today education is only the third most popular major, after business and communications.
Though Bowie State has not integrated as successfully as the state had hoped (its enrollment is 70 percent black), lacks enough dormitory space for its 3,000 students and suffers many of the fiscal constraints of other small schools, yesterday those problems were far away. Yesterday was a day for inspiration.
"Twenty years ago, blacks in Mississippi didn't even have the right to vote. It was college students, black and white, North and South, who shook the country into accepting this most basic of rights," said Hughes, "It was less than 20 years ago when young people marched to win the victory for human rights." Having a good job, instructed the governor, is only one way to achieve. "This day ask yourself not only what you intend doing, but what you intend being."