America's ailing institutions can best be healed by a return to individual responsibility, morality and commitment to the common cause, Spencer F. Eccles told Weber State University graduates Friday.

"The fundamental problem now challenging the American dream is not a government that doesn't govern, workers who don't work or schools that don't teach. The problem is not `crack' cocaine, teenage suicide or babies having babies. Those are but symptoms," Eccles said. "The disease is a moral decay, a moral degradation, that blurs the meaning of right and wrong and condones, encourages and perpetuates individual irresponsibility."Eccles' speech highlighted ceremonies honoring more than 3,100 WSU students who had completed work toward associate, bachelor's or master's degrees. It was the university's largest class to date, a fact that President Paul H. Thompson attributed to the change to university status, general program growth and, tongue in cheek, the desire to leave persistent parking problems at the university behind.

After the graduation program, individual college convocations were held to further honor the graduates.

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Eccles, a businessman and philanthropist, was one of five individuals who received honorary degrees as part of the 1992 ritual. Others were Lithuanian President Vytautas Landsbergis, educator-geologist Orlo E. Childs, community worker Marguerite L. Horton and child development pioneer Melba S. Lehner.

Accepting the award for Landsbergis was Lucia Baskauskas, rector for academic affairs at Vytautas Magnus University in Lithuania. She spoke briefly, pointing out the difficulties her country now faces in breaking from communist rule and becoming free.

"East Europeans don't know how to be free," she said. "Trust has been wiped out and openness has not been allowed. . . . And you can't be a little free, you can only be free."

Student speakers Christa Graham and Ufo Eric-Atuanya both advised classmates to look on graduation as only a highlight in a lifetime learning process. Atuanya, a Nigerian, said it is "up to us to utilize our education as people concerned with humanity."

Eccles told a large audience in the WSC Dee Events Center that "The Cold War, as we knew it, is over." But the fall of communism has given Americans time for instrospection, and many find that internal erosion has become an enemy of another kind.

The deterioration of values and culture, the breakdown of the family and unwillingness by individuals to accept personal responsibility have led to "a society that is in love with its own illusions, not one that cares about its future," Eccles said.

The general decay is reflected in the people voted into government, he said. The "weakness of will, the shallowness of principle and the sheer cowardice and paralysis" of national leaders is symptomatic of the voting public's own decline.

The country eventually will have to cope with the results of "programs we cannot afford and pay for with revenues we do not have," Eccles said. Entitlement programs create huge budget deficits and drain money from education, infrastructure and other public needs.

America stands on the threshold of unprecedented worldwide competition that will decide which nation is world leader in the 21st century. In the United States, despite a strong economy, productivity has stagnated and real wages declined, he said.

Education is also in decline, not because of failure of the system but because of failure in the home, where children learn the essence of education, he said.

He challenged graduates to care enough to offset the problems he described by being responsible citizens, responsible workers and responsible parents. He urged them to read to their children, to read as an example to their children and to read to expand their own horizons.

"Let us then, as Americans of the 1990s, recapture those goals (of the great American dream) through self-mastery and personal integrity," he said.