2012 Commencement Ceremony

Remarks by President Ronald J. Daniels
Homewood Field

To our honorary degree recipients, trustees and alumni … to our faculty and staff, to our parents, family members and friends … and most especially to our brand new graduates … welcome to the Johns Hopkins University Commencement for the great Class of 2012!

Graduates of the great Class of 2012 – I can’t say that enough today – I know that this is a day of immense joy and anticipation.

But, I also know, as do so many others, this is a day that is punctuated by more than a hint of ambivalence.

You are leaving Johns Hopkins. This will be traumatic. Seriously.

After all, for our seniors who have had to contend with the shock of having the Den closed for some inexplicable reason, you now also will have to deal with the end of your PJs/Uni-mini combo evenings … the end of the mentoring and guidance administered so gingerly by the Shush Lady … the end of piles of peeled shrimp at the Sterling brunch … and the end of the many conveniences of the CharMar at 2 a.m.

We understand your pain.

But graduates of the Class of 2012, as is customary on commencement days everywhere, we urge you to steel yourselves by looking forward.

And here, in thinking about the shining paths stretching before you, and in recognizing the lofty intellectual heights you have scaled at Hopkins, I want to talk to you about a very pressing issue… two of this year’s blockbuster movies: The Hunger Games and The Avengers.

I can see your puzzlement.

After years of tireless study, can’t the President invoke something grander, something more, well, cerebral, than summer celluloid?

Let me explain.

One movie – The Hunger Games – presents a grisly dystopia, where a select group of young people is pitted against each other in an arena of gruesome horrors.

Grabbing what weapons they can, they fight each other and the ghoulish traps around them, trying to survive … to be the last one standing when the games end.

Now The Avengers also presents a perilous world in which an alien attack may lead to the end of civilization. The only potential for salvation is for Nick Fury – the head of a secret intelligence agency played by Samuel L. Jackson – to convince a select group of super-humans to come together, uniting their powers for the good of society.

Like any good Hollywood blockbuster, I’m not being terribly subtle here.

You may already see where I’m going with this.

In your time at Hopkins, you have secured new capacities, new powers for yourself.

And we believe strongly, unequivocally you now have the wherewithal to survive and flourish as you launch into the world.

And so, the choice is yours: seek to fight to the end for yourself at the expense of those around you … Or unite with others to save civilization?

Now, while the choice presented may seem a tad overdrawn, I think, in fact, before our world – the real world – stands a series of daunting challenges that will command your intellectual and moral energies and require that you choose: I or us.

The economy, which began to falter about the time our undergraduates applied to college, remains shaky today and still leaves far too many people on the sidelines.

The inequities of health, of security, of prosperity that pockmark our society, right here in Baltimore and in communities in this country and indeed around the world, are stubbornly persistent.

Challenges like the future of health care, the growth of technology, and the protection of privacy, and the rigidities of our public education system that thwart improved outcomes, all require new thinking and new responses.

I’d like to think that over the past few years, you’ve come to regard Johns Hopkins as a place where Avengers thrive – where the “Us” triumphs over the “I,” and we stare down challenges together.

This is a place where we harness the gifts of our students and faculty, uniting our efforts in the service of our neighborhoods, our nations and our world.

This is not to discount the lonely hours you have spent toiling in the library or laboratory, independently sifting through a problem or idea … painstakingly working through a new approach.

Rather, it is to recognize that when the creative spark flickers, and you add your contributions to those of others who share your passions and values, the results that echo, reverberate through our society can be dramatic.

The Us that is built on a chorus of Is.

You saw the power, the humanity of collective action time and time again at Hopkins.

You saw it when our engineers and clinicians collaborated with industry leaders to create a bewilderingly simple and inexpensive device that could revolutionize the care of newborns throughout the developing world.

You saw it when more than 1,000 volunteers turned out for a Day of Service on a cloudy September morning, unleashing good works and goodwill across our city.

You saw it when our many schools at Johns Hopkins pitched their talents behind a new elementary and middle school in East Baltimore – the first new school that this city has built in 25 years – responding in a stirring way to the needs and great promise of our children.

But the power of the collective is not an idea that is limited to your time at our university. It is an ethos you will carry with you into the world.

When today’s keynote speaker, Sam Palmisano, took over at IBM and began reexamining its core values, he took this idea to the extreme. He hosted a 72-hour “Values Jam” on the company’s intranet, inviting all of IBM’s employees around the world to join in … in essence, creating a 319,000-person team of would-be Avengers.

I think Sam would be the first to acknowledge the result of this innovative and somewhat messy enterprise was something a little bit chaotic and something that he could not have achieved alone. And significantly, the power of that very robust conversation led to numerous innovations that have made our cities smarter, our environment cleaner, and our technologies sharper.

Graduates, today we revel in your individual achievements and your exceptional abilities. And we honor the hours and effort you have put into earning the degrees we are about to bestow upon you.

Today we also celebrate the community of excellence and humanity that you shaped and strengthened while at Hopkins.

But tomorrow is different.

Tomorrow, your work begins anew.

Tomorrow, we place the challenges of our society squarely on your shoulders.

And you are going to have to make that choice – I or Us?

In the trailer to The Avengers, Samuel L. Jackson’s character is shown rallying members of his super-human team. In a moment that is pure Hollywood, he intones:

“There was an idea to bring together a group of remarkable people so when we needed them, they could fight the battles that we never could. … What are you prepared to do?”

Class of 2012, you are of Hopkins.

And so, we know what you are prepared to do.

Now make us proud.

Godspeed, graduates!