"It feels great," said Gretchen D. Lofland, throwing her hands in the air after receiving her doctorate from George Washington University yesterday.

But "it took eight years of working and writing," she added. "And it was pretty rough, when you work full time as the principal of two schools and you're trying to raise a 15-year-old daughter alone."

Lofland, who is principal of both Bryan and Payne elementary schools in the District, was one of 2,148 students receiving degrees in six ceremonies -- almost one an hour -- on the GW campus yesterday.

Secretary of Education William John Bennett delivered a 15-minute speech to Lofland and her fellow graduates of the School of Education and Human Development, offering bits of common sense and personal philosophy.

"Try to like life. Be good-humored," he implored his audience of about 1,200, including almost 100 graduates at the Lisner Auditorium. "Make the best of any job.

"Do not seek happiness," said Bennett, who called himself a "practical optimist. The quality of life is not determined by the number of hours of happiness. Don't bother your head about the difference between happiness and pleasure."

With no mention of an education issue or federal policy, Bennett ended his speech by quoting the Maharanee of Jaipur: "Children, keep an open mind. But don't keep your mind so open that your brains fall out."

Bennett received an honorary Doctor of Humanities degree, which was presented to him by Eugene Walker Kelly Jr., dean of the School of Education and Human Development.

After each graduation ceremony, graduates and guests gathered for a reception under a huge blue-and-white-striped tent on a grassy courtyard between school buildings. Tables dressed in yellow linen cloths were laden with bite-sized sandwiches, fruit, cheese, cookies, mints and punch.

Norman Fenwick, a campus carpenter, was pressed into service as an audio technician, carting in his own stereo system to provide cassette recordings of classical music for the receptions.

"I set up at 10 a.m. and I'll stay until the six receptions end, whenever that is," said Fenwick, speaking over the violins in a recording of Vivaldi's "The Four Seasons."

Other employes, stationed at tables on nearly every block, directed confused parents and friends in search of the graduation ceremonies of their loved ones.

"Where is the reception?" two elderly women asked Patricia Colot, who works as an information consultant at the school but served as a pointer yesterday.

"Make a left on the grass and you'll see the blue tent," said Colot, briefly taking her eyes up from her book, "The Parsifal Mosaic" by Robert Ludlum.

From 10:30 a.m., when the first ceremony was held, until 5 p.m., when the last ceremony took place, the cycle repeated itself: Speakers offered practical advice and thoughtful challenges. Black-robed graduates marched down aisles and received their degrees. Parents, spouses and children cried.

Outside, things went more quickly: Snapshots. Flowers. Kisses. Goodbyes.

Exclaimed a happy Lofland: "No more school! No more registration lines! No more parking tickets!"