Bill’s Graduation Lessons (Newsweek submission: 6/9/08)

By Christopher Wink | June 9, 2008 | Newsweek submission

Bill Cosby told me I shouldn’t worry. No one was going to remember anything I said anyway.

In May, I graduated from Temple University in Philadelphia and was honored to address my peers and their families as our student commencement speaker. For my portion, I urged Temple graduates of 2008, in addition to those of the past and those yet to come, to stand by our obligation to leveraging our intellectual capital in the communities that surround the university’s Main Campus in central North Philadelphia.

Temple’s gift is that it is surrounded by neighborhoods that aren’t as near to any other university as large and as influential. I hope my fellow graduates and I remember and forever appreciate that, I said.

Cosby – the seminal 20th-century entertainment icon turned controversial race commentator – addressed my fellow graduates after I did.

“I told Wink,” Cosby said to nearly 10,000 new-alumni and family members. “Wink, don’t give that speech. Nobody’s going to remember a thing you said, Wink.”

He told me something similar before we went on.

“Nobody will even be listening,” he assured me.

Of course, despite what I might want to think, the Cos knew what he was saying.

Each May universities parade big name celebrities, politicians and intellectuals through their graduations to get attention, to display prestige and, perhaps, to make a meaningful experience a memorable day. But we mostly forget who spoke at graduations of the past. These speeches have become routine and predictable. I am not foolish enough to think my seven minutes were anything anyone will remember for very long, if anyone was listening at all. Graduations are full of children and grandparents, lots of people who are there for one face of thousands, not the speeches, not the pomp, not the circumstance. The words of this 22-year-old have likely already been completely forgotten by most.

Cosby’s address though was something different for my graduating class.

Bill Cosby was raised in Philadelphia and went to Temple. He is among our best known alumni and a member of our Board of Trustees. What’s more, rather than trot our celebrities or politicians, Cosby was the lone speaker at Temple’s commencements throughout the 1990s through 2003.

But he hadn’t spoken at a university-wide event since August 2004, when he welcomed the Class of 2008 – my class – by promising to be at our graduation four years later if we were there. In the last weeks of my college career, The Temple News, the university’s student newspaper, wrote editorials calling on Cosby to be true to his word. But his publicist didn’t call back, and Temple’s administration had “no official stance.”

Some said the relationship started to fracture after January 2004 allegations that he sexually assaulted a former Temple employee. Some said Cosby’s book tour that featured him critiquing elements of black America didn’t help.

But he showed up, and then he walked into the Liacouras Center – with me at his side – and it sounded like a rock concert – not too bad for a 70-year-old (July 12, 1937). Young faces of every color and background – the hallmark of the self-labeled ‘diversity university’ – dressed in black gowns, draped over each other to stick out digital cameras and cell phones. Bill Cosby and I, preceded and followed by university dignitaries, split the graduates down the middle of our college’s basketball court, thousands of mothers and fathers and aunts and uncles and sisters and brothers and cousins and friends applauding from their feet.

Temple’s graduations are not known to be reserved affairs.

“They weren’t cheering for you,” he would later tell me.

Of those pictures that so many screaming Temple graduates accidentally took of me when Cosby strode too quickly, the comedian had a similarly cutting remark that still makes me laugh.

“They’ll crop you out by tomorrow,” he promised me.

After I spoke, University President Ann Weaver Hart introduced Dr. William H. Cosby. The crowd again rang out, like we were at one of his comedy shows, not our own graduation.

“Thank God nobody has yet asked you to follow your dream,” Cosby said. “Because you never really slept that well so that you could dream.”

And we laughed.

“You have no clear idea what is forward,” he said of our futures. He gestured up to the families crowded on the second level of our basketball arena. “Only the people sitting up here have any idea where you should go and what you should be.”

And we cheered.

Temple is a big-name, professional research institution like many others in this country. In many ways, the college experience has merged into a single story. Leave home. Drink beer. Study. Frisbee. Study. Throw your cap in the air to the tune of the same speech. One from the biggest name a university can bring in, or the most sentimental story that can be told or the advice from some 22-year-old who is too young to know much of anything.

No one from Temple’s Class of 2008 will remember my speech, but I suspect they will remember Bill Cosby. I know I will.

As submitted to Newsweek magazine’s ‘My Turn’ column in June 2008.

Number of Views:3498

Press release of the day: new bathrooms

Anyone bored in Philadelphia tomorrow morning, there is only one place to go. Check out this press release that just came through here in the State Capitol newsroom here in Harrisburg, Pa.

School District of Philadelphia: Overbrook High School unveils improved restroom facilities.

Text of June 5 media advisory.

PHILADELPHIA — School District of Philadelphia officials today announced Ethelyn Young, Principal, Overbrook High School will unveil improved restroom facilities previously visited by Dr. Arlene Ackerman, newly appointed Superintendent of the School District of Philadelphia, on Friday, June 6, 2008 at 8:30 a.m., 5898 Lancaster Ave., 1st floor.

The District’s operations, facilities, and maintenance teams began work on Tuesday, June 4th to quickly address facilities issues and provide students with basic restroom amenities.

WHO: Ethelyn Young, Principal, Overbrook High School

WHAT: Overbrook High School, Unveils of Improved Restroom Facilities,

WHEN: Friday, June 6, 2008 at 8:30 a.m.

WHERE: Overbrook High School, 5898 Lancaster Ave., 1st floor.

Please be advised that Dr. Ackerman will NOT be at Overbrook High School that day.

Image from Penn Partners.

Number of Views:1784

State government comes down to vandalism

Take a break from state property taxes, the state smoking ban proposal and Philadelphia exemption for a moment and enjoy some good old vandalism.

HARRISBURG — The phone and power lines were cut in the district office of state Rep. Jim Marshall, R-Beaver, just before 4 a.m. today.

“Somebody had to know what they were doing,” said Gina Kane, the manager of Marshall’s office at 1612 7th Ave in Beaver Falls. “Everything was cut except for the main power line, which would have electrocuted them pretty good.”

Kane found the office’s electrical box on the ground near the rear employee entrance when she arrived at 8:20 this morning. It was confirmed by the office’s phone service provider that service was cut at 3:47 a.m., Kane said.

Nothing was taken and police found no evidence of forced entry, she said.

By 10:30 power was returned and by noon all office activities had resumed.

Police noted a string of burglary attempts over the past two weeks in the area and the office’s alarm could have scared those involved, Kane said.

“But they didn’t even try to get in here.”

Read it on Pittsburgh Live. Photo courtesy of Ironic Sans.

Number of Views:1695

Statewide smoking ban passes conference committee

I covered a Pennsylvania House-Senate conference committee hearing on a statewide smoking ban this morning for the Pittsburgh Tribune Review.

HARRISBURG — A House-Senate conference committee today approved a statewide smoking ban, but a member of the panel blasted the agreement, saying it amounted to telling Allegheny County to “go to hell.”

The agreement must be approved by the full House and Senate. It carves out a partial exemption for casinos and some bars.”

Read the rest on Pittsburgh Live.

It marks a laborious, 10-month joint effort to find compromise between a state Senate and more restrictive state House bill. Stewart Greenleaf, R-Montgomery, made note of the long process.

This has probably been the longest [conference committee] in the history of the commonwealth.”

Hear Greenleaf speak on a statewide ban last month.

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Number of Views:1983

Tribune Review: Property tax elimination seems doubtful

MY FIRST CLIP appears in this morning’s Pittsburgh Tribune Review.

HARRISBURG — One Republican lawmaker wants to eliminate school property taxes by broadening sales taxes across Pennsylvania, but at least one Democratic leader says the bill doesn’t have a chance.

“I don’t want to see someone lose their life defending their home against a government official,” said state Rep. Sam Rohrer, R-Berks County, who sponsored the legislation.

Rep. Dwight Evans, D-Philadelphia, said the Legislature’s packed agenda before the June 30 budget deadline will doom Rohrer’s bill.

Read the rest at Pittsburgh Live.

Photo source.

Number of Views:1675

Property taxes abolished, probably not

HARRISBURG, Pa. – Pennsylvania Rep. Sam Rohrer, R-Berks, is making a second attempt since January to eliminate property taxes in the commonwealth.

I covered a rally he held in the rotunda of the State Capitol this morning and wrote a brief and filed a story for the Pittsburgh Tribune Review, the first paper for which I am writing during this post-graduate internship.

The story runs tomorrow on this House Bill 1275, which was largely crafted with the Pennsylvania Taxpayers Cyber Coalition.

It doesn’t seem like anything will come of the bill… again, as suggested by a Reading Eagle story last week and by a quote I got today from West Oak Lane’s own Dwight Evans, D-Phila.

It’s not going to happen. We just don’t have the time: bottom line.”

Here’s Rohrer talking about Pennsylvania taxes last month.

Cartoon courtesy of the Indianapolis Star.

Number of Views:1818

Welcome to Harrisburg

Well, I’ve made the move from Philadelphia to Harrisburg.

That has been rough, but I can’t get Internet access yet in my new digs, so bear with these technical difficulties and a light posting week.

Tomorrow I start my new job covering the statehouse with the Pennsylvania Newspaper Association Pennsylvania Legislative Correspondents’ Association – so I hope to reform this into the adventures of a professional journalist. Terrifying.

Number of Views:2438

Last day in 3333 North Park Avenue

Today I turn over my keys to 3333 North Park Avenue in the Lower Tioga neighborhood of North Philadelphia near Temple Hospital to my landlord. I have spent better than 18 months living there. It has become the first place I could ever really call home outside of my parents’ watch. Indulge me in some photos.

I’m moving to Harrisburg, Pa. this weekend for a post-graduate internship.

Number of Views:2007

Finally, a women's soccer franchise in Philly

Looks like Philadelphia will take another swing at a women’s soccer franchise, as part of another attempt at a successful women’s soccer league.

This from the Philadelphia Business Journal:

Women’s Professional Soccer, a new league set to begin play next year, signed a letter of intent Tuesday to add an expansion franchise in Philadelphia.

The Philadelphia team will begin play in 2010, joining seven teams set to begin play next year in Boston, Chicago, Dallas, Los Angeles, New Jersey/New York, St. Louis and Washington, D.C.

The region hasn’t yet opened it’s men’s soccer franchise in Chester and already more are swooning. Does this seem like a wise decision to anyone else?

Photo courtesy.

Number of Views:6675