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Delivering his last commencement address as president of Niagara University, the Very Rev. Donald J. Harrington Sunday said Niagara continues to prepare graduates "for a very complex world."

Niagara prepares them "for successful, productive lives in a constantly changing world," Father Harrington told 518 graduates who received bachelor's degrees during the ceremony in the Convention and Civic Center.

Father Harrington has been at Niagara for 16 years, the last five of them as president, and he is leaving to become president of St. John's University in Jamaica, Queens, in August. The Rev. Brian J. O'Connell, executive vice president at Niagara since last August, will succeed Father Harrington as president of Niagara.

In his farewell commencement address, the departing president reflected on some of the changes that have taken place during the lifetime of the students who graduated on Sunday.

At the time they were born, he said, "No women lived on campus. Male students wore jackets and ties in class. Calvin Murphy was a sophomore. O'Shea Hall was brand new. Seton Hall had not yet been built.

"Richard Nixon was president. Niagara University's tuition was $1,224 a year. The Vietnam War was raging and there were anti-war demonstrations on many college campuses, including our own; ROTC was still mandatory at Niagara."

Since then, he said, "Trust in our government was shaken by the Watergate scandal and abortion was legalized in our country. Advanced technology put men on the moon and VCRs and microwave ovens in most homes. As time passed, computers revolutionized our lives." Through it all, Father Harrington said, "Niagara prepared our alumni for the challenges which they faced after graduation."

Mr. and Mrs. William P. Leary Jr. of Franklin Lakes, N.J., were given the President's Medal in recognition of their support for the university. They have donated $1 million for construction of a recreation center. Honorary degrees were presented to Dr. Harold P. Freeman, president of the American Cancer Society, doctor of science; Bernard J. Kennedy, president and chief executive officer of National Fuel Gas Co., doctor of commercial science, and Thomas E. Taylor, company group chairman of Johnson & Johnson, also doctor of commercial science.

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