Peter, Paul & Mary singer tells nearly 4,000 graduates to practice humility, make a difference
SAN FRANCISCO, May 24, 2003 — Using words and song, folk musician and activist Peter Yarrow encouraged San Francisco State University graduates to make a difference in the world through humility, respect and activism. While nearly 4,000 graduates took part in Commencement, about 7,400 students will receive diplomas — the largest class in the University’s history.
“I learned that my life was made meaningful when I was walking the walk of caring about others, when I was devoted to changing the world so that there was less suffering,” Yarrow, a member of the famed folk trio Peter, Paul & Mary, told those gathered for the University’s 102nd Commencement on Saturday. “I learned that all of what Peter, Paul & Mary achieved in terms of recognition and millions of albums sold was very secondary to the extraordinary gift that we received to be a part of the struggles of this country to identify itself with social justice.”
As he sang the group’s signature song “Puff the Magic Dragon” he stopped halfway through and asked administrators, faculty members and other distinguished guests on the platform to stand by him and join in the familiar lyrics. Soon graduates and the crowd of more than 22,000 family members and friends gathered at Cox Stadium were singing and clapping.
“Puff the magic dragon lived by the sea and frolicked in the autumn mist in a land called Honah Lee. Oh, Puff, the magic dragon still lives, lives by the sea and frolics, and frolics in the autumn mist in a land called San Francisco University.”
Yarrow also sang another of the trio’s tunes, “Don’t Laugh At Me,” which is the central theme of his current passion — Operation Respect, a project that works with schools and youth organizations to reduce the emotional and physical cruelty some children inflict on each other through ridicule, bullying and, in extreme cases, violence.
Robert A. Corrigan, the University’s president, praised the Class of 2003 for its rich diversity, noting that a quarter of the graduating class had been born outside of the United States.
“You are, indeed, a virtual world unto yourselves. In all, you are the native sons and daughters of 115 nations. Some of your families have been here in the United States far longer than San Francisco State has been a University,” he said. “Others may have arrived only a year or two ago. Virtually all of you are California residents, mostly from the Bay Area.”
And he hoped that graduates gained more than just a diploma.
“As you leave San Francisco State, I pray that you will take with
you far more than factual learning," Corrigan said. "We have
sought to give you lifetime learning skills and lifetime values.”
He credits SFSU and the experiences he enjoyed as a student writer for the daily newspaper with allowing him to impress editors at the magazine. “And I got that gig, I think, because of the freedom that we had to experiment with journalism here at San Francisco State and the lessons learned from that freedom ultimately gave me an edge when Rolling Stone was hiring a new editor.”
He also told students to stick to the principles they believe in.
“And I’m hoping that your sense of what’s right is not just what’s right for you, but what’s good for your friends, your family, your community and your world,” he said.
Student speaker Nelly Lau, a top honors student in electrical engineering who earned a National Science Foundation Graduate fellowship and will enter Stanford in the fall, had several words of advice for her classmates.
First, don’t be limited by society’s stereotypes, said Lau, who wants to be a role model for women in science.
Second, learning is like rowing upstream, she said, borrowing from a Chinese proverb. If you stop rowing, you are bound to go backwards. And the third bit of advice, Lau said, might be an answer for a world that has seen tragic events in recent years.
“Almost all intentional tragedies are a result of misunderstanding, selfishness and hatred. We must resolve conflicts in a civilized way, with communication, compromise and compassion,” she said.
NOTE: A complete transcript from SFSU’s Commencement can be found at www.sfsu.edu~news/2003/comm03.htm.
1600 Holloway Avenue, San Francisco, CA 94132 415/338-1111