At Commencement Convocation

'Your Parents Want to See You Get a Job,' Comedian Cosby Tells Graduates

by Fernando Quintero

Opening with his gratitude that no Latin was recited and that no university administrator instructed the senior class to "go forth," Bill Cosby, one of America's best-loved comedians and a vocal advocate for education, maintained the light and jovial tone that dominated this year's Commencement Convocation May 13 at the Greek Theatre.

Cosby, who delivered the keynote address, looked out at the 8,000 in attendance and expressed his sympathy with parents and families of graduating seniors.

"Now, for the first time in your life, you will be held responsible. Parents want to see you get a job. Your brothers and sisters have already taken your room and changed it. These people are tired of you," Cosby joked to thunderous applause.

Also speaking at the convocation, which is organized by the Senior Class Council, was departing Chancellor Tien and this year's top graduating senior, Carl Ryanen-Grant.

While battling malignant melanoma, Ryanen-Grant earned straight A's and received the campus's highest academic honor, the University Medal, in recognition of his scholastic achievements.

Ryanen-Grant, in his poignant, yet up-beat address, spoke of the importance of focus and perspective in one's life. His fellow graduates congratulated him with a standing ovation.

It was one of many in the ovation-packed day. But clearly the most heartfelt was reserved for Tien. The chancellor was even more animated and full of life than usual. When a towering Alfred Grigsby, who won the Jake Gimbel award, reached down to hug Tien, the chancellor responded by jumping up a full foot to wrap his arms around the basketball star.

Cosby, who was listed on the program under his formal name, William H. Cosby Jr., and who holds a doctorate in education, acknowledged the Class of '97's outstanding students.

"There are those who graduated magna cum laude, cum laude, and then there are the majority of you, the 'Thank you Lordys' out there," he said.

The late afternoon ceremony began with a procession of administrators, professors, staff and students. Cosby was in tow too, tipping his blue Cal cap with a gold tassel hanging on one side to the exuberant and receptive audience.

The procession was followed by welcoming remarks from Prachi Karnik, senior class president, and Rick Russell, president of the California Alumni Association who was admonished by Cosby for telling a joke before the entertainer had his chance to address the audience.

It was Cosby's second time on campus. The first was in 1993, when his daughter, Erika, received a master of fine arts degree. Cosby called Chancellor Tien last fall and offered to speak. The actor-comedian confirmed his interest in February, just two weeks after his only son, Ennis Cosby, 27, was murdered near a Los Angeles freeway.

Cosby mentioned his son in a brief anecdote about a friend of Ennis's who hitchhiked 700 miles to see him off as he was about to join the Peace Corps.

Cosby's remarks opened this year's commencement season at Berkeley. More than 60 departments, schools and colleges will hold separate graduation ceremonies through the end of May as part of Berkeley's 134th commencement. Approximately 8,500 students are expected to graduate this year, 5,700 with bachelor's degrees and the remainder masters and doctorates.

Other speakers at graduation ceremonies include O. J. Simpson's lead defense attorney, Johnnie L. Cochran Jr. He will speak at the African American Studies graduation Sunday, May 18, at 2 p.m. in the Greek Theatre. The ceremony is open to the public. Tickets can be purchased for $3 at the Zellerbach Ticket Office.

In addition, former presidential adviser George Stephanopoulos will address graduating students in political science. Actor and 1963 alumnus Stacy Keach will speak to graduates of the Center for Theater Arts, and Berkeley poet and journalist Mark O'Brien, the subject of the recent Oscar-winning documentary
"Breathing Lessons" will speak to English graduates.



Copyright 1997, The Regents of the University of California.
Produced and maintained by the Office of Public Affairs at UC Berkeley.
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