Chestertown, MD, May 21, 2006 — At one end of the spectrum was Mortimer Caplin, a corporate tax attorney and World War II veteran who landed on Omaha Beach. At the other was Chris Matthews, a fast-talking television journalist who, during the 1960s, served in the Peace Corps in Swaziland, teaching business classes and exploring remote villages on a Suzuki motorbike.
Caplin graduated from University of Virginia School of Law hours after Hitler and Mussolini invaded France. He and many of his classmates soon headed off to war. Matthews, the host of MSNBC's Hardball, graduated from Holy Cross College at the height of the 1960s and set out on wild, youthful adventures that shaped who he is today.
Despite their generational differences, their messages to Washington College's Class of 2006 were similar: "Get involved."
Caplin, who has devoted much of his life to public service, urged the graduates to aspire to be public citizens—to vote, to contact elected officials directly, to give some thought to public service. "This is the people's government and you are in a position to contribute to the common good. Imagine," he said, "what Paul Revere could have done with an e-mail account and a cell phone."
Matthews told the 318 graduates to "go do something a little wild and crazy before you knuckle down and start chasing the buck, because whatever you do in your 20s will have a lot to do with who you become. Be true to your ideals." And when the time goes to get that job, he said it's not whom you know but whom you get to know, that matters.
"Get yourself in the game. Just go where the game is played and find out how to get into the game. Learn the lingo, the manners, the culture, the jazz of the game you want to play.
"There's a false assumption out there that talent will be recognized. Don't believe it," Matthews continued. "The job goes to the person who is standing right there."
Caplin and Matthews were each presented with honorary degrees—doctor of laws and doctor of letters respectively.
As part of the May 21st Commencement ceremonies, the College recognized Jean-Francois Seznec '70 with the Alumni Citation for Excellence. An expert in the political economy of the Persian Gulf, Seznec teaches at Georgetown University's Center for Contemporary Arab Studies and at Columbia University's School of International and Public Affairs. With more than 25 years of experience in international banking and finance—ten of which were spent in the Middle East—Dr. Seznec is a frequent commentator in national and foreign media.
He shared a remarkable story of a lost family heirloom that was returned to him during Reunion Weekend—reason enough, he said, to keep returning to "this jewel of a place."
As is tradition at Washington College, Commencement concluded with the awarding of eight distinguished senior honors and prizes.
The George Washington Medal and Award, given to the senior demonstrating the greatest promise of understanding and realizing in life and work the ideals of a liberal education, went to Brenna Schneider, an international studies major with a minor in economics. Schneider, who spent three months in a Burmese monastery and then lived in a Tibetan refugee settlement, is returning to India to work for a non-governmental organization. She also received a departmental award.
The Clark-Porter Medal, given to the student whose character and personal integrity have most clearly enhanced the quality of student life, went to George A. Best, Jr., a business management major from Chestertown.
The Sophie Kerr Prize, valued at $55,906 this year, was awarded to Marshall Shord, an English major from Berlin, MD. Shord was selected to win the largest undergraduate literary prize in the country based upon the strength of his critical thesis examining three novels of Thomas Pynchon, along with a portfolio of essays, stories and poems.
The Henry W. C. Catlin 1894 Medal, given to a senior man outstanding in the qualities of scholarship, character, leadership and campus citizenship, went to Timothy Kerr, a history major.
The Eugene B. Casey Medal, given to a senior woman outstanding in the qualities of scholarship, character, leadership and campus citizenship, went to Sarah McCloskey, anthropology major. McCloskey, who graduated first in her class, also received the Anthropology Award, the Lambda Alpha Gamma Senior Award and the Margaret Horsley Award.
The Louis L. Goldstein '35 Award, given to a graduating senior with unusual interest, enthusiasm and potential in the field of public affairs, went to C. Michael Shaffer, a political science major. He also won the Jonathan A. Taylor Jr. Leadership Award.
Marian F. Royer, a biology major, received the Jane Huston Goodfellow Memorial Prize, in recognition of her scholastic excellence and her abiding appreciation of the arts and humanities.
The Gold Pentagon Awards, given by the Omicron Delta Kappa Society in recognition of meritorious service to Washington College, went to Jim Siemen, professor of psychology, and Brooke Burkett, a biology major from Avon Lake, OH.