CITY'S HEROES IN BIG DEMAND Campuses prefer them to celebs

Copyright 2002 Daily News, L.P.
Daily News (New York)...04/04/2002


Bill Cosby is sure to leave 'em laughing, and famous authors can usually be counted on for a fine speech.

But to really impress graduating classes this year, colleges are seeking former Mayor Rudy Giuliani, or a city cop or firefighter.

Institutions of higher learning are dangling honorary degrees, medals and other awards before Giuliani and Ground Zero heroes so they'll give commencement addresses in June.

"We wanted to have someone who is a hero," said Alaina LeBlanc, class president of Manhattanville College, which will honor former Police Commissioner Bernard Kerik and the former commissioner of the mayor's Office of Emergency Management, Richard Sheirer.

"We didn't want a comedian," she said.

Giuliani has received 25 requests from colleges around the country and countless more from high schools. He's accepted two invites - from Syracuse University and the Georgetown University Law Center - his spokeswoman Sunny Mindel said.

"He was in a key position at a key point in this country's history and he became a symbol of leadership and determination," said Kevin Morrow, a spokesman for Syracuse. "Our students are very excited."

Giuliani's agent, the Washington Speakers Bureau, charges at least $ 40,000 for each 40- to 60-minute address. And it's not uncommon for him to get $ 100,000 for a talk. May speak at HS But Time's Person of the Year is not being paid to speak at Syracuse or Georgetown, Mindel said. In fact, Giuliani is considering stopping at a school with a much lower profile: Shanksville-Stonycreek High School in Pennsylvania.

Seniors at the small school near the crash site of United Airlines Flight 93 sent a letter to Giuliani asking him to attend their commencement. To their surprise, his secretary called back to say he was interested. No date has been set.

"Our graduating class has an affinity for the ex-mayor," said Gary Singel, superintendent of schools. "He seems to be a very standup person who did not put himself above the tragedy."

Giuliani will be joined on the commencement circuit by some of his former top deputies. Kerik's plans In addition to speaking at Manhattanville, Kerik will address graduates at Kingsborough Community College in Brooklyn, New Jersey's Caldwell College and the University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey in Newark.

City College has lined up representatives from the NYPD, FDNY and the Port Authority for its commencement.

The college plans to give the firefighters and cops presidential medals - an honor previously bestowed upon Secretary of State Powell and Cosby, among others.

"We've had a ton of requests for speaking engagements in New York and in other states," said FDNY spokesman Mike Loughran. "We're trying our best to accommodate everyone."

Port Authority Lt. John Collins never expected to be a commencement speaker, but said he'll be happy to talk at Kean University in Union, N.J.

"I'm going to focus on the opportunities life gives us and the choices made by people who passed away on Sept. 11," Collins said. "I'm hoping the students get the message that everyone is capable of extraordinary things."