Jean Stapleton addresses Wilson graduates

May 18, 1997


Staff Writer, Waynesboro

CHAMBERSBURG, Pa. - In an emotional ceremony, actress Jean Stapleton, best known for her portrayal of Edith Bunker on the popular 1970s television sitcom "All in the family," received an honorary degree from Wilson College at Sunday's outdoor graduation ceremony on campus.

"This is a very moving and stirring honor and I do feel a deep responsibility to it," Stapleton said, her voice shaking.

Stapleton and Darby Lewes, an assistant professor and author, were the two keynote speakers during the graduation ceremony honoring 105 graduates from the women's college and the college of continuing education.


Recipient of four honorary degrees, Stapleton said the one from Wilson is "very different" from the others because of the memories that come with it.

"Some of the best years of my life were spent here," she said. "It's full of memories."

Stapleton, her late husband, William H. Putch, and two children lived in Chambersburg and Caledonia, Pa., for 25 years. From 1958 until 1983, Stapleton made regular appearances at the Totem Pole Playhouse theater in Fayetteville, Pa.

After accepting the degree, Stapleton broke away from the traditional speaker's role and invited the graduates to ask her questions.

Based on her experience as a career woman, Stapleton advised the graduates to, "learn to be more open, to listen and to concentrate. I find that concentration opens the door to progress and development in whatever you're doing."

Stapleton is the recipient of three Emmy awards, three Golden Globes and several others for her work in television and film.

"Learning is a continuing process, never give it up," Stapleton told the students. "If I had time, I would take a course."

Stapleton told the students to turn down the "dazzling invitations" in favor of "spending time in quiet places."

Lewes, an assistant professor of English at Lycoming College in Williamsport, Pa. and the author of Dream Revisionaries - Gender and Genre in Women's Utopian Fiction, 1870 -1920, told the graduates that attending college is the opportunity to get past learning how things work and begin asking why.

"Here you begin to learn there's only one real topic of study - life," Lewes said.

Lewes told the female graduates that they "are the fortunate ones" because they've received the support needed to attend and finish college.

"There are still too many women who can't be here today," she said.

At 17, Lewes started out as a folk singer on the West Coast and worked in folk and hard rock bands. She sang professionally for 10 years until the birth of her first child when she enrolled in a community college in Chicago. She finished her two-year program in a year and then became a full-time student.

"Keep studying, keep learning, keep finding small miracles and leaping to new ones," she said. "Do good work and love it and share it with others. If you do all of that, you will find that the price you paid for college is a small one at that."

Comparing their lives to that of a book, Holly Lynn Shonk told her fellow graduates in the senior class address that "each one of us must decide for ourselves how this chapter unfolds."

She advised the class to analyze and look for alternative solutions to problems as they enter life outside of Wilson College.

Randall E. Rotz, speaking on behalf of the college for continuing education, told the graduates that graduating from college doesn't mean learning has stopped.

"I have news for all of you," he said. "You have not finished the journey. You will be continuing your education somehow or other for the rest of your lives."

After receiving her diploma, Andrea Aldridge of Waynesboro, Pa. said she felt "wonderful and relived."

"I have two children, so it was hard to do," she said.

Though she's working as an administrative assistant now, Aldridge said she doesn't know what the future holds now that she has a bachelor's degree in communications.

Nausheen Ali of Bangladesh said she has mixed emotions about graduating. She received her bachelor's degree in information system's management.

"Hopefully I'll get a job or go to grad school," she said, adding that she plans to stay in the United States.

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