Bill Cosby Tells StudentsTo Welcome SurprisesContact: Finnegan, Lisa
NEW YORK - Actor, comedian and author Bill Cosby entertained more than 10,000 Fordham University graduates and their guests at Fordham's 156th Commencement on Saturday, May 19, and received an honorary doctorate of fine arts, honoris causa.
Cosby told graduates that the world is full of surprises and that it is often not fair, but they should embrace change, strive for great integrity and, above all, love and trust their parents.
"The outside world has no assurances, it has no structure and nobody plays fair," Cosby said. "Nobody except your parents. As a parent I can tell you that all we ask is that you trust us enough now to tell us the truth. Show integrity and work for great integrity."
Sounding like his much-loved television character Dr. Huxtable, Cosby assured those who had not yet secured jobs that "it is going to be okay.
If you don't have a job, it's okay. Many of your parents have already resigned themselves to it. It's not okay if you didn't look for one. And don't wait for the perfect job, because you're in denial. There is no perfect job. Remember those words you used in college: 'Go for it?' Well, let's go for it."
Donning a Fordham Education T-shirt and a maroon Fordham baseball cap with a tassel, Cosby encouraged graduates to follow their instincts because that's where they would find success.
When Cosby first started in comedy, "I was told no, no, no. I accepted the no. I took the comedy notes I had been writing, threw them away and went to bed. It wasn't two hours later that I was up looking for those notes because I knew [comedy is what I was meant to do]. And, ladies and gentlemen, you are going to know it. You will know it. People change what they want to do all the time. It's okay to do that. It's okay to change."
In presenting Cosby's honorary doctorate, Regis Bernhardt, dean of the Graduate School of Education noted that "art, whether a poem or a painting or a performance, captures in very particular terms a universal human experience. By that definition, the work of William H. Cosby Jr. constitutes an artistic achievement that helped define the contemporary popular imagination.
"At each stage of his career, Bill Cosby has been part of a continuing dialogue with American society, from his groundbreaking role in the television series I Spy, that teased Cold War sensibilities of the 1960s, to his role as Doctor Huxtable in The Cosby Show that represented
a new image of an African-American family dealing with the familiar conflicts of American life in the 1980s."
Cosby's acclaim as an actor and comedian is well known. Perhaps less reported is his commitment to education. Even after enjoying great success as a television star, Cosby returned to school. He received a master's degree and a doctorate in education (Ed.D.) from the University of Massachusetts Amherst. Since then, he has been a vocal advocate for education and has generously donated to educational institutions, civil rights organizations and social service agencies across the country."The unifying thread that stitches together the different chapters of his long career has been a commitment to education and the adventure of life-long learning," Bernhardt said when presenting Cosby's honorary doctorate.
Turning even personal tragedy into an opportunity to educate, Cosby and his wife formed the Hello Friend/Ennis William Cosby Foundation to honor the memory of their son who was killed in a roadside shooting in 1997. The foundation trains kindergarten through second-grade schoolteachers to work effectively with students who have learning differences.
Fordham's Graduate School of Education was the first to receive a grant from the foundation. The three-year grant of $758,000 provides 20 full-tuition scholarships each year to "Young Readers at Risk: Identification and Intervention," a program that began last September.
Cosby is also a five-time Emmy-award winner and a best-selling author. He has had 21 albums on the national pop charts (including eight Gold Records) and has received five Grammy Awards.
Also receiving an honorary degree was Robert (Bob) Sheppard, public address announcer for the New York Yankees and the New York Giants, who was presented with an honorary doctorate of rhetoric.
The Rev. Jeffrey P. von Arx, dean of Fordham College at Rose Hill, noted that "when Bob Sheppard announced the starting lineups for the first time at Yankee Stadium on April 17, 1951, Mickey Mantle was in right field, starting his first game in Yankee Stadium and Joe DiMaggio was in center field, beginning the final season of his career. Other future Hall of Famers in that Boston Red Sox-New York Yankees game were Ted Williams, Yogi Berra, Lou Boudreau, Johnny Mize and Phil Rizzuto. All of these heroes have long since left the field, but Bob Sheppard continues to start every game at Yankee Stadium as its legendary public address announcer."
Susan L. Taylor, a 1991 graduate of Fordham College at Lincoln Center, senior vice president of Essence Communications Partners and former editor-in-chief of Essence magazine, received an honorary doctorate of humane letters. The Rev. Robert R. Grimes, S.J., dean of Fordham College at Lincoln Center, said "Fordham University takes great pride in the professional achievements of its graduates but recognizes that the grand intention of a liberal arts education is not only to enable our graduates to make a living but to fashion personal lives that are worth living. In this context, the career of Susan L. Taylor is a compelling success story in both personal and professional terms."
Nicholas Scoppetta, commissioner of New York City's Administration for Children's Services (ACS), was presented with an honorary doctorate of laws. Peter B. Vaughan, Ph.D., dean of Fordham's Graduate School of Social Service commended Scoppetta for "serving the needs of the children of New York City with a rare combination of personal commitment and professional competence."
Scoppetta, a lifelong advocate for child welfare, has been in public service for nearly 40 years. In 1996, New York City Mayor Rudolph Giuliani appointed him the first commissioner of the ACS, the first New York City agency devoted exclusively to children's services.
Scoppetta is a past president and former chairman of the board of trustees of the Children's Aid Society, and is also a past member of the Executive Committee of the Association of the Bar of the City of New York.
Sister Ann Veronica Bivona, R.S.M., principal of St. Margaret Mary Elementary School in the Bronx, received an honorary doctorate of humane letters.
In presenting her honorary doctorate, Sharon P. Smith, dean of Fordham's College of Business Administration, said, "Here in New York City, the debate over the relative merits of public schools, charter schools and parochial schools has been carried on with considerable passion and not always by disinterested participants. In the end, however, the success of any educational reform will turn on the quality of personal commitment at the center of the process. Successful schools, whether public or private, depend on effective leaders. Sister Ann Veronica Bivona, R.S.M., is such a leader."
Founded in 1841, Fordham is New York City's Jesuit university. It has residential campuses in the north Bronx, Manhattan and Tarrytown, and the Louis Calder Center Biological Field Station in Armonk, N.Y.