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Russert BC speech stresses values

'Meet the Press' anchor addresses graduates

NEWTON -- In a speech emphasizing Catholic values, "Meet the Press" anchor Tim Russert told the Boston College class of 2004 yesterday that their Jesuit education is a special gift, and also called for measures to prevent clergy abuse of children.

Russert, whose son, Luke, will enter Boston College in the fall, praised the university for addressing the abuse scandal directly in a series of lectures, seminars, and classes.

"I believe it is imperative our bishops continue to work tirelessly to bring about a healing and reconciliation with all those who have been harmed," said Russert, "and vigorously enforce measures that insure the illegal and immoral abuse of our young will never, ever be tolerated by our church again."

Russert, who described himself as "a respectful servant in the laity of the church," also said the key to a meaningful life is understanding, "What is God's work here on earth?"

The Rev. William P. Leahy, BC's president, mentioned the abuse crisis, the Sept. 11 attacks, corporate ethics scandals, and the war in Iraq as events that have shaped the class of 2004.

Archbishop Sean P. O'Malley, who wore a bright pink skullcap with his usual brown robes, gave a benediction at commencement, as Boston's archbishops have for about 70 of the last 80 years. Cardinal Bernard F. Law chose not to attend in 2002 and 2003 amid the abuse scandal.

More than 3,000 undergraduate and graduate students received degrees, capping a big year for honors for BC, which netted two Rhodes scholarships, 11 Fulbrights, a Marshall, and a Truman.

In his keynote speech, Russert described having a private audience with Pope John Paul II in 1985, to ask him to appear on the "Today" show. Russert said he forgot his concerns about NBC's ratings and instead thought about "the prospect of salvation."

"You heard this tough, no-nonsense hard-hitting moderator of `Meet the Press' begin by saying, `Bless me Father!' " Russert said.

Although parts of Russert's speech were punctuated by cheers and laughter, some graduates napped throughout the ceremony, or shook off sleep only long enough to applaud now and then. Others wore sunglasses, even though bad weather had pushed the ceremony indoors.

Megan Monaghan brought a copy of "The Catcher in the Rye" to ward off boredom, but said she ended up enjoying Russert's speech.

"We're all proud of ourselves," she said. "Four years is just enough time to realize you're grown up enough to do it by yourself."

But saying goodbye was still hard. Monaghan's friend Caroline Ettman said her dormitory mates were virtually competing to see who could cry the most over the last month.

Honorary degrees were also awarded to the Rev. Raymond Hammond, pastor of Bethel AME Church in Jamaica Plain; Sister Katarina Schuth, a professor at the St. Paul Seminary School of Divinity; Blenda Wilson, president and CEO of the Nellie Mae Foundation; and Thomas Busch, a BC graduate and general manager of the nation's oldest Catholic radio station, in Nome, Alaska.

Marcella Bombardieri can be reached at

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