Posted in Speeches
Rising to the Challenge Campaign Close
Ralph O’Connor Recreation Center
Johns Hopkins University
Thank you, Jeff, and Dave, for your extraordinary leadership and friendship and your support for the milestone we mark tonight as for so many other endeavors that we have undertaken together.
121 years ago, on the afternoon of January 2, 1897, a group of our university leaders, trustees, and faculty – including our first president, Daniel Coit Gilman – gathered in McCoy Hall, on our original downtown campus, to mark the close of the second campaign for Johns Hopkins.
It was a relatively modest luncheon, with a line-up of speakers that makes this evening look like speed dating.
The campaign they were celebrating was called the “Relief Fund,” which came on the heels of our first, equally ominously named campaign, the “Emergency Fund.”
You get the theme here.
The precipitating circumstance was that the financial underpinning of Johns Hopkins University had begun to unravel.
The original gift by our namesake donor had included 15,000 shares of common stock of the B&O Railroad. But by 1887, the dividends on this stock had nearly disappeared. Less than ten years after that, the B&O went into receivership and the University’s finances were again precarious.
Even as the early leaders of Johns Hopkins were dreaming and building for the future, they found themselves scrambling to keep the lights on.
These first two campaigns – which together raised over $340,000 – were a fight to preserve not only the soul, but, indeed, the very existence of Johns Hopkins.
But the Relief campaign of 1896 did something even more momentous than keep the university afloat: it broadened our base of support – because less than 5% of the funds were raised from our alumni, while nearly 95% came from the citizens of Baltimore.
Which brings us back to that winter afternoon in 1897. Mr. Eugene Levering – one of those citizen supporters whose name adorns a well-trafficked hall at Homewood – rose to speak.
“People used to think of [this university] as Mr. Hopkins’ institution,” he said, but “this can no longer be the case.” Rather, it is now, “Our university. Its future is handed over to our own citizens.”
Our university. Its future handed over to our own citizens.
These words captured our supporters’ and leaders’ dramatic step toward collective stewardship of this University and the animating idea of our namesake that Johns Hopkins would be a place committed to the power of reason, of evidence, and of ideas to kindle and to improve the human condition.
Fast forward 121 years, to this moment.
This campaign – optimistically named Rising to the Challenge (Thank you, Fritz, for this, as for so much more) – was birthed – perhaps a tad recklessly – in the very depths of the Great Recession.
But it was by no means the remedy to an existential crisis. Far from it.
The university that Bill Brody, who is here with us this evening, and his predecessors, handed off to all of us was no longer an emergent institution, but one firmly established in the firmament of great American research universities.
When we launched this campaign, we were given the opportunity to pose a far more expansive question than the leaders of yesteryear ever could.
Namely, we were able to ask not whether Johns Hopkins would be, but what more Johns Hopkins could be.
And it was not only leading Baltimoreans who heeded this call, but people across this country and indeed the world who resoundingly and collectively affirmed the dream this institution day in and day out embodies.
And, dreamt we have.
With the support of all of you here tonight and another 278,400 donors around the globe, we have pursued audacious acts of imagination on an unprecedented scale.
Could we have imagined, when we began this campaign, that we would establish one of the most ambitious, far-reaching initiatives in interdisciplinary research and education of any university anywhere? An initiative that seeded scores of jointly appointed faculty across the entire institution – the human bridges – from our Bloomberg Distinguished Professors to the Malone professorships in engineering and medicine, to the Aronson and Kissinger professors, our scholar-practitioners of global statecraft at SAIS?
Could we have imagined that an institution long known for its preeminence in natural and biological sciences would receive the largest gift ever to a department of philosophy and give us the precious opportunity to define what philosophical inquiry and education would look like in the 21st century and beyond?
Or that your philanthropy would be the critical margin of excellence that unleashed the creativity and ambition of the next generation of our faculty, whether they are hunched over a bench in a lab or poised at the keys of a Steinway grand?
Could we have imagined that we would create and then operate the first K to 8 school in East Baltimore that had been built in over twenty years – galvanizing expertise and energy across our entire enterprise, from Education to Medicine and Nursing to lacrosse – all in the service of making our city stronger?
Or that we would, under the aegis of the Bloomberg American Health Initiative, be at the leading edge of the fight against the greatest threats to public health in 21st Century America – the onslaught of addiction, obesity, and gun violence, and threats to adolescent health and the environment?
Could we have imagined just 8 years ago that we would have catapulted ourselves to becoming one of the world’s leading centers of cancer immunotherapy?
Or that we would be called upon through the SNF Agora Institute to act as a bulwark in the fight to repair the discord and polarization besetting liberal democracies across the world?
These are formidable challenges that we have tackled, and at a time of particular fracture and turmoil, it is my fervent belief that the work of the American research university is integral, nay, indispensable to the flourishing of liberal democracy.
If this is true for all research universities, it is and must be particularly true for this university. Because we were America’s first research university. We are an institution that stands apart.
We have the capacity to launch individuals up the economic ladder, to train students in the habits of critical thought and community building, and to nurture a culture grounded in reason and principle, and bursting with a spirit of discovery.
As one of the final speakers declared that day in January 1897, in this university lies the “power to evoke the past and [to] call up the future of the world.”
Tonight, we could not be more grateful for the countless ways that each one of you has helped this great university – your university, our university – to call up the future of our world.
We are humbled by what you have given, inspired by what we have been able to do together, and brimming with hope and energy and confidence for what we will do in our next chapter.
On behalf of all of us at Johns Hopkins, thank you.