Leave 'Em Laughing: Bill Cosby Speaks at Master's Convocation | Teachers College Columbia University

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Leave 'Em Laughing: Bill Cosby Speaks at Master's Convocation

Bill Cosby was one of the speakers at the 1998 masters' convocation.
Before families and friends of the TC master's graduates descendedupon the Cathedral of St. John the Divine for the 1998 convocationceremony, media commentators, photographers and reporters hurriedly setup their equipment. They wanted to find the best spot for viewing thefeatured speaker: actor, writer, educator Bill Cosby.
Cosbyarrived earlier than most of the players in the day's events, wearing aTC baseball cap and a T-shirt bearing a photograph of his late son,Ennis, in a cap and gown and sunglasses. The message around the photoread, "Hello, Friend," and on the back was written, "Dignity, that'swhat it's all about." As others filed in to prepare for the ceremony,Cosby was entertaining the behind-the-scenes staff in St. SaviourChapel-the "green room" of the Cathedral. He was chatting and jokingwith everyone, non-stop, as if he were at a reunion with old friends.
RetiringProfessor Margaret Jo Shepherd arrived to be Cosby's escort and hepresented her with a T-shirt to match his own. He conferred twomore-one to President Arthur Levine and another to the student speaker,Melissa Steel. The trustees and President's party smiled excitedly andlaughed at the entertainer's humorous banter as they donned their robesand adjusted their hoods. As Cosby put on his robe, he was presentedwith a new TC cap fitted with a gold tassel to wear for the ceremony.
Theorgan music resounded through the Cathedral and the group obedientlylined up to wait for their cue. Cosby, seemingly the most calm of theassembly, continued to chat all the way to the stage. He waved andgreeted the graduates as they cheered wildly at seeing the star.Cameramen and photographers rushed to find the perfect angle to capturethe entertainer's march up the aisle to his seat.
As part of theceremony, Cosby received the Teachers College Medal for DistinguishedService, TC's highest honor given to select people who have madeexemplary contributions to education. President Levine introduced thepresentation by saying that "in addition to his role as a comedian,actor, director and writer, Bill Cosby is, above all, an educator."
ProfessorShepherd read the award citation and Dean Zumwalt presented Cosby withhis medal. Shepherd said, "You struggled with the decision to follow adream to be a teacher or the dream to entertain. You found a way tobring these dreams together to touch more lives than you could havepossibly imagined." The citation noted Cosby's newest venture, a seriesof children's stories begun by his son Ennis before his death.
Cosby,in addressing the graduates, told them to think about the teachers theydidn't want and become that person. He described his own suchteacher-Mary Beth Forchik. "My mother made sure that I got her," hesaid. "I sure didn't want her. She could leave the room and nobodytalked." He continued, "I don't remember the doctor who operated onthis left shoulder; I don't remember who gave me a baseball glove. ButI remember Mary Beth Forchik's name, and I am still scared of her. ButI know that she loved us."
He exhorted them to get to know thechildren they are teaching, to speak up about overcrowding in theclassrooms, to get petitions signed to protest if there is no heat inthe building. "Most of you are here because you want to make a changein the world," Cosby said. "I want you all to speak up."
PresidentLevine addressed the graduates after Cosby's remarks. He, too, stressedthat, as educators, they can and would make a difference in the world."Each of you will touch dozens of lives," he told them. "Family,friends, students, clients, and co-workers. For ill or for good, youwill make a difference in every one of their lives, whether you wish toor not."
Student speaker Melissa Steel, who was the winner of aSindlinger Award for outstanding educational writing, also expressedher faith in the power of the graduates to change the people theytouch. "Imagine now that all the people we will reach are crowded inthis room today," she said. "Can you see the ocean of possibilityflowing from us here today? Let me tell you, we are powerful: We are educators."
Alsositting inconspicuously in the audience was designer Ralph Lauren andhis guests who were there to celebrate his wife Ricky's graduation.Mrs. Lauren received her master's in Counseling Psychology.
Onthe Columbia University campus the morning following the master'sconvocation, TC's graduates joined those from the various other schoolswhich comprise the University. President Rupp of Columbia addressed thegraduates and conferred degrees.
TC doctoral graduates gatheredat Riverside Church to be hooded by the dean later that afternoon.Prior to the ceremony, Thomas Evans, Chair of the Trustees, waspresented with the Cleveland E. Dodge Medal for Distinguished Service.Evans received the award because of his many contributions toeducation, including his book, The School in the Home, and his founding of MENTOR, an initiative which matches mentors from law firms with public school students.
Amongthose receiving doctoral degrees was Peter Coleman, Research AssistantProfessor and Co-Director of the International Center for Cooperationand Conflict Resolution. Coleman's dissertation received the status ofdistinction and was entitled Psychological Resistance to and Facilitation of Power-Sharing in Organizations.

Published Thursday, Jan. 1, 1998


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