OBERLIN — Oberlin College welcomed three distinguished guests into the fold Friday, conferring honorary doctorates on actor/comedian Bill Cosby, his wife, Camille, and music legend Stevie Wonder.
Friday’s events, which also included a performance by Bill Cosby at Finney Chapel, kicked off the dedication and grand opening celebration for the Bertram and Judith Kohl Building.
The Kohl Building will house the Oberlin Conservatory of Music’s jazz studies, music theory and music history programs. It is also in line to become the first building exclusively dedicated to music to receive a Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design Gold certification.
About 700 people came to see the Cosbys and Wonder get their degrees.
Oberlin president Marvin Krislov said that the three fit at Oberlin because of their beliefs that education empowers, and that music and the arts make life more meaningful and beautiful.
“I am deeply honored to welcome them into the Oberlin family,” Krislov said, then addressed the Cosbys and Wonder by saying, “Welcome home.”
Johnnetta Cole, a 1957 Oberlin graduate and former president of Spellman College who now serves as director of the National Museum of African Art at the Smithsonian Institute, gave the introductions for Bill and Camille Cosby.
Of Camille Cosby, Dr. Cole said that she embodied what Sojourner Truth said of how women were to help turn the world right-side up again. She praised Camille Cosby’s philanthropic and educational efforts.
After accepting her degree, Camille Cosby said that Oberlin College has “a long history of respect for all humans.” She urged students to hold onto not only the classroom education they get at the college, but the values they learn there, and carry that into the rest of their lives.
Bill Cosby brought the comedian out to play as Dr. Cole introduced him, pretending to not know where to stand.
Of Cosby, Cole said that he is like jazz at its best. “He practices and prepares, then, trusting his well-honed abilities, gives in to improvisation,” she said.
Cosby urged students to see themselves as a person who has chosen to become something, and to not give in to fear.
The degree was presented to Wonder using his real name, Steveland Hardaway Morris.
“It’s exciting to be here at this college,” Wonder said, praising Oberlin’s history as the first American college to accept blacks and women, and its role in the abolitionist movement as well as it being a key stop on the Underground Railroad. “It is an honor to be a part of this, and I don’t take it lightly.”
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