2013 Commencement Ceremony

Prepared remarks by President Ronald J. Daniels
Homewood Field

To our honorary degree recipients, alumni, and trustees, especially Chair of our Board of Trustees, Pam Flaherty, who is celebrating her final commencement in her current role, as are a three great academic leaders who are finishing their terms of leadership, Dean Hill, Dean Jones and Director Sharkey… to our faculty and staff, to our parents, family members and friends … and most especially to our graduates … welcome to the Johns Hopkins University Commencement for the great Class of 2013!

I have to admit something to our undergraduates. This is a bittersweet moment. You and I started at Hopkins the same year and, now, here we are, four years later at your commencement.

Looking out across the field today brings back memories of the first time I addressed you as a class. It was your freshman convocation – just days before the start of classes. Your professors as yet unknown, your greatest friendships as yet unmade, the UniMini steak, egg and cheese sandwich as yet, sadly, un-tasted.

I recall saying that you were, understandably, in a state of terrified exhilaration. What I didn’t say was: So was I.

What a joy to be with you this morning and be able to say – for all of us – this is no longer the case!

To all the graduates of the great class of 2013, as you consider your futures, I want to talk to you about something you have used well and often since arriving at Hopkins. Something you are likely using…right now… even as you absorb words of wisdom from your elders that will surely be seared on your synapses for years to come.

That’s right…your favorite app.

Now, you might be wondering why apps? What do Instagram and Weather and Guidebook have to do with being a Hopkins graduate? I mean beyond helping you memorialize the Ravens Super Bowl win, survive Snowmaggedon, or enjoy the culinary delights of Spring Fair?

Let me explain.

A great app is well-designed and intuitive in its use. It fills a need that you may not even have known you had – some highbrow and some decidedly low. When apps are released, they represent their creators’ best efforts, their most inventive designs. The programmers offer up their best code and their most dynamic and engaging user interface.

And then, the designers await user input, excited to make their idea even better, more robust, and more useful.

Today, we are launching you onto the world. We have coded you – indeed as have your parents and family and friends – to the best of our ability. And, in turn, you represent the best of Johns Hopkins – its persistence and imagination and courage. The restless spirit and pursuit of excellence that define us.

This is your release.

And we know – we know – that you are going to get great reviews.

Just look at what you’ve already accomplished.

And I don’t mean filling not one, but two boats for the Junior Cruise, or discovering all the steam tunnel routes beneath Homewood.

Though these do require a certain savvy and audacity.

I mean your capacity for critical reasoning and relentless research, and for strenuous work fueled by pizza at 4am.

And I mean your willingness to take intellectual risks.

You took these risks – as many of you have told me – not for grades, not for future position, but as a quest to discover, to illuminate, to enlarge your understanding of the world in which we live – and to challenge your classmates, and even your professors, to do the same. This is the intellectual framework you have created. These are the core values that will guide and inspire you.

But we know that updates will be necessary.

At your first post-college job, you will enhance your user interface. And you will make stability improvements – some may even come thanks to partnering – professionally or romantically – with one of the people sitting next to or near to you today.

Updating is okay. Indeed, it is essential.

Every moment, every day, our current information is being supplanted, enriched.

Our means of analysis are evolving, transforming old paradigms and creating new ones.

Consider this: A mere 7 years ago, Twitter did not exist. Today, Hopkins computer scientists and researchers are mining 5,000 tweets per minute to track the spread of the flu. And this is but one example.

Navigating this landscape requires continual updating, an open to new ideas, to changes. You will be called upon to reinvent yourself in order to seize a prized opportunity or grapple with an unexpected setback. And you will have to discern what feedback to incorporate and what to discard as you continue to iterate yourselves and your best ideas.

We know you are up to it, because we’ve seen you do it, time and again, during your years here… as together, you impressed even Hopkins surgeons with a faster, better way to suture a patient…as you improved your times on the track, critiqued, cheered and inspired by your teammates and coaches… as you and your advisors worked to choose your major, pick a new major, then design your double major … as you collaborated with your classmates to expand tutoring programs for elementary school students in Baltimore and improve the skills of musicians in Uganda.

And you have no better example to follow than our commencement speaker, Hopkins’ own Dr. Q., who launched himself so many years ago on an extraordinary journey from immigrant to U.S. citizen, from farm worker to physician. I can’t help but wonder: When he began, could he have ever imagined the person we see today – version 10.1 or perhaps 10.2?

Of course, this points to the critical component of any successful app: It must be an excellent, a truly bracing idea from the start.

You will change over the years, ever learning and adapting. But the essence of who you are, enhanced and emboldened by the skills you gained at Johns Hopkins, will remain.

To all the members of the class of 2013, you are launching an excellent idea today.

We are proud to have played a part in its creation, and we are so enormously proud of each of you.

Godspeed. And congratulations!