Be brave, like the late NFL star and soldier Pat Tillman, U.S. Sen. John McCain told 10,000 University of Southern California graduates at their commencement Friday morning.
The Arizona senator and onetime Republican presidential candidate cited Tillman's "moral courage" in his address at the 121st annual ceremony on the Los Angeles campus.
Tillman, moved by the events of Sept. 11, turned down a $3.6-million contract to continue to play in the National Football League and instead joined the Army. He was killed in a gun battle in Afghanistan last month when his Army Ranger patrol was ambushed.
"In earlier generations, many professional athletes risked such a sacrifice for their country. It's rather rare today," said McCain, a former Naval officer who was a prisoner for five years during the Vietnam War.
Courage, he said, is motivated by a sense of honor and duty, and regard for the dignity of others, as well as our own.
McCain also quoted Winston Churchill and Eleanor Roosevelt, telling the students "to do the thing you think you cannot do."
The school presented 5,262 bachelor's degrees; 4,165 master's degrees; and 785 doctoral degrees. Campus officials said they could not offer a crowd estimate, but said that they had anticipated up to 30,000 guests.
The 2004 valedictorian, David Chacko of Rancho Palos Verdes, studied both premed and business. Chacko, a Marshall scholar, will attend graduate school at a British university and then plans to enter medical school. His brother, Jacob, was the 2000 USC valedictorian and also was a Marshall scholar.
Marine Lance Cpl. Stephen McDowell, 20, attended the ceremony to see his brother get a bachelor's degree in international relations.
McDowell spent five months in Iraq and expects to return in August. He said he was glad McCain spoke of Tillman.
"He could have made millions, but what did he do?" said McDowell, who is stationed at Camp Pendleton. "He threw it away so he could go fight for his country. I find that very honorable."
McCain received an honorary doctorate of humane letters for his career as a public servant and advocate for governmental reform, and for his perseverance while enduring his imprisonment in North Vietnam.
Princeton University theoretical physicist Edward Witten, who has won many awards, including the Fields Medal and a MacArthur fellowship, was presented with an honorary doctorate of science for his contributions to mathematics and physics, as well as his "commitment to understanding the very structure of the universe."