IT'S quite appropriate that Ted Kennedy sent Barack Obama to stand in for him as the speaker at Wesleyan's 176th commencement this weekend.

Graduation speakers have the chance to leave indelible imprints on the fresh, young minds of the graduates they address. As Sen. Orrin Hatch (R, Utah) once said: "There is a good reason they call these ceremonies commencement exercises. Graduation is not the end; it's the beginning."

With their diplomas in hand and their cakes iced with encouragement from a man who may become our next president, Wesleyan graduates are well equipped to set the world on fire. The small university in Middletown, Conn., is one of the nation's most progressive, and I couldn't help but reflect on the years I spent there back in the early '70s.

Great care is given in choosing a speaker who'll inspire the graduates. Throughout the nation, thousands of students are graduating at every level, ready to meet their next challenges. Watching young people flourish is one of life's most rewarding experiences, and every teacher revels in those moments.

Kennedy's endorsement of Obama for president - and as his stand-in - shows his personal pride in having helped to pave his Illinois colleague's path to the top of public life with numerous pieces of legislation he's penned over the years.

When tears fell freely on the Senate floor last week, we knew how grave Kennedy's brain cancer really is. Doctors say it's inoperable, the most aggressive type.

But Kennedy has never been a quitter, and, when faced with adversity, he shifts into overdrive. We've always been better off because of it because he's always fought to improve the quality of life for everyone. But this time, his diagnosis of a malignant glioma will be a solo battle between him and God. All we can do is pray for him and his family, and be grateful that the fruits of his labor have helped to shape our nation so well.

He is living proof that stumbles can lead to successes.

It's actually a blessing that Kennedy didn't become president, because we needed someone to roar as loudly as he has during his reign on Capitol Hill. As one of our most progressive lawmakers, his fingerprints are everywhere in the Senate chambers.

He's capped his work by passing the torch and endorsing Obama for president. It may well become one of Kennedy's greatest legacies, and a major turning point in our nation's history.

Like Kennedy, Obama is a visionary who works toward the greater good. Obama, say the people who work for him, is a good listener. As he clears his many remaining hurdles to the White House, speculation continues about his choice for a running mate. Kennedy is a master at backroom politics, and my bet is that even with his grim diagnoses, he is on his BlackBerry, influencing party strategy. Obama, who is holding his cards close, has several strategic options.

As much distaste as I have for Hillary Clinton, I respect her mind. I also believe that having her as a running mate may be the only way to put together a winning ticket.

Some pundits say Clinton's ego is far too big to agree to second billing. But it may well be the Democrats' best hope. Party leaders are most likely weighing whether Obama can win without her before they encourage this surely risky strategy to fill in the missing votes he needs.

But there also are others who might bring the right touch to Obama's ticket. One of my favorites is Kathleen Sebelius, the governor of Kansas.

I like her because of her advocacy for education. She recently signed off on a plan that gives Kansas' public schools the largest funding in state history.

And, let's face it, America's public-school systems rank worse than those of most other industrialized nations. We desperately need a ticket that will place preparing future generations of students to compete in the global market place high on the agenda.

OBAMA himself says: "We have an obligation and a responsibility to invest in our students and our schools. We must make sure that people, who have the grades, the desire and the will, but not the money, can still get the best education possible."

Sebelius has already highlighted education, and Washington can certainly benefit from her talents to build a brighter future. Educating our children is our best hope for a healthy nation.

If we don't put it ahead of every other social ill, this country will implode in a sea of poverty, crime and dysfunction. And then the stellar legacy of Ted Kennedy will become blemished when it really doesn't have to.*

Fatimah Ali is a regular contributor. E-mail her at fameworksmedia@yahoo.com.