Johns Hopkins University honored its Class of 2018 on Thursday as about 1,500 students claimed their degrees at the commencement ceremony for all of the university's divisions and campuses.
Lawyer and social justice activist Bryan A. Stevenson, who founded an organization that has helped more than 125 wrongly condemned people on death row, was one of six honorary degree recipients and the featured speaker. He urged the graduates to go out into the world and use their knowledge to make meaningful and much-needed change.
"I believe if we're going to change the world," Stevenson said during the ceremony at Baltimore's Royal Farms Arena, "if we're going to create a new future, if we're going to use these degrees to allow things to change that must be changed, we have to consider that we cannot measure how we're doing by looking at how well we treat privileged people and powerful people and celebrated people. Our commitment to changing the world is going to have to be reflected in how we treat poor people, incarcerated people, neglected people, disfavored people. It's in that context that we change the world."
Johns Hopkins University President Ronald J. Daniels expressed a similar sentiment in his remarks, sharing the deeply personal story of how his father's family escaped Poland on the eve of the Holocaust and equating the undercurrents of tribalism and prejudices of that era to the rise of nativism and intolerance in the present day.
He urged the graduates to be among those committed to bringing down the barriers that "limit our capacity to see others as fellow human beings deserving of recognition, respect, and compassion.
"In your time at Johns Hopkins, you have gained skills, understanding, and perspectives that cross disciplines and schools of thought," Daniels said. "You have learned to live with and learn from people who hold different views than your own. You have wrestled with complex ideas and brought to bear the tools of reason, evidence, and debate.
"So today, I am calling on you. To use all that you have learned here to recognize and confront your own biases and to help others do the same. To champion the idea of the equal worth and dignity of all human beings. To create and support institutions that share your values, and to challenge those leaders who do not."
Senior class president Kwame Alston, speaking on behalf of the Class of 2018, took time to acknowledge the many people—family, friends, mentors, and loved ones—who had helped the graduates get to this day.
"There is no question that we are ready to move forward with our lives," Alston told his classmates. "The only question is: how will we give back to the people who have given so much to make us into the people we are today? We owe it to everyone in this room, university, and city to make the most of the privilege we have as Hopkins graduates, and to use what we have learned and accomplished here to make the world a better place."