Turmoil in China; personal, business, and journalistic ethics; global economic competition; the Exxon spill; calls for altruism and philanthropy. These were some of the topics and themes touched upon by commencement speakers on college campuses across the United States this spring. Public figures in the arts, sciences, business, and government used the occasion to speak to students and, sometimes, to a larger audience as well.

For example, President Bush, mindful of sharing the Boston University podium with French President Mitterrand and of the NATO talks afterward, spoke of a new era of US-European cooperation, based on ``a tie of culture, kinship, and shared values.''

But most guest speakers took care to talk about issues they thought would directly affect the graduates as they ``commenced'' with their adult lives, an informal Monitor survey of 21 commencement addresses shows.

The modest approach of Notre Dame University football coach Lou Holtz was typical of many speakers. ``There is a distinct difference between fact and faith,'' Mr. Holtz said at Gonzaga University. ``It is a fact that you're sitting in the audience. It is a fact that I am standing up here and addressing you. But it is faith on my part that leads me to believe that you want to hear what I have to say.''

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