2010 Commencement Ceremony

Remarks by President Ronald J. Daniels
Homewood Field

To our honorary degree recipients and to the new members of the Society of Scholars, to our trustees and alumni, faculty and staff, to our parents, family members and friends, and most especially to our brand new graduates, welcome to the Johns Hopkins University’s Commencement celebration for the Class of 2010.

It has been an eventful few years.

You entered under one president and leave with a different one – on both the national and university level.

You entered as economists started talking about a slowdown and leave as they begin discerning signs of recovery.

You entered with the understanding that Hopkins never – ever – closes for the weather, especially not the snow.

It has been a momentous time for the nation, for the university and, surely, for you.

There are momentous times ahead too, and I cannot wait to hear of your accomplishments.

As we confer your degree, we set the challenges of today’s world firmly on your shoulders, and offer the words of Thomas Edison: “There’s a way to do it better – find it.”

The relentless pursuit of excellence is, after all, the Hopkins way.

Consider the Mayor of New York, our graduate, and our speaker today – Michael Bloomberg.

At the dawn of the computer age, he latched onto the idea that a small grey information terminal could revolutionize the financial industry.

He was relentless.

Michael Bloomberg knew he could find a way to do it better.

This spirit of persistence crosses our campuses, permeates our classrooms and carries through the ranks of our alumni. There are countless examples.

Last fall, I went to Hopkins Hospital, donned scrubs and toured through various operating theatres, meeting some of Hopkins’ legendary surgeons.

At the end of the tour, in the very last theatre, stood John Cameron, a former chair of the department of surgery and recognized master of general surgery. I am glad to see he’s here with us today.

On that day, Dr. Cameron was performing a Whipple procedure on a patient with pancreatic cancer.

The Whipple is, as I have come to learn, one of the most complex surgeries in modern medicine. In order to remove diseased tissue, the whole digestive tract must be literally re-configured.

The surgery is complex. It is difficult. It takes hours. Sometimes more than 10. And, as recently as a few decades ago, it was rarely performed because so many patients failed to survive the procedure. Indeed, at one time, the mortality rate from the operation alone was in excess of 30 percent.

Not surprisingly, many renowned surgeons suggested abandoning the procedure all together, though it was the best hope for some suffering patients.

But, as it turns out, John Cameron had a different perspective. Starting in 1969, he focused on improving and perfecting the Whipple.

With stubborn, some might say, perverse persistence, he performed the procedure. Day after day, month after month, year after year – more than 1,000 times.

Dr. Cameron answered Edison’s call to find a better way.

As you answer that call, few people will notice the time you spend in grueling, often lonely toil in the operating room, the research lab, the library or the studio.

And the truth is that incremental results gained from this kind of dedication are rarely awe-inspiring. Indeed, rarely is your impact evident when confronting the same challenge day after day.

But the arc of Dr. Cameron’s effort tells the story of his persistence.

Over a span of decades, the time it took him to complete a Whipple operation fell from nearly nine hours to just 5-and-a-half. A patient’s hospital stay nearly dropped in half.

But perhaps most stunningly, 99 percent of Dr. Cameron’s patients survived the surgery.

Over time, he passed on his growing expertise, helped to form a small cadre of ace surgeons, and – gradually – built confidence in the Whipple.

Watching him in that operating room last September, I was awed by his skill, his patience, his precision and his determination.

And, of course, little did I know that …

A month later, I would be a patient on that operating table and that my surgeon would be one of Dr. Cameron’s mentees who holds the John L. Cameron chair in surgery.

To say I am among the lucky ones is a cosmic understatement.

Thankfully, my problem was not pancreatic cancer. And thankfully, I happened to arrive here – at Hopkins, this epicenter of Whipple surgeries – just months before I would learn of my illness.

My luck stems directly from Dr. Cameron’s relentlessness and persistence … surgery after surgery … year after year. Learning. Honing. Perfecting.

When I look out on this audience, I know that there are countless Dr. Camerons among you.

I hope that you find your passion – whether in medicine, civil engineering, archeology, poetry or business – and then pursue it with the same relentless discipline that has marked and defined Dr Cameron’s career.

Your patience and your perseverance will save lives, rebuild cities, discover our history, affect humanity and enrich our existence.

As Dr. Cameron, Mayor Bloomberg and so many others in our Hopkins community have shown, the solutions you stubbornly pursue could change the world.

Members of the Class of 2010: There’s a way to do it better. Find it. And change the world.