Johns Hopkins University celebrated the Class of 2020 today with a one-of-a-kind virtual ceremony featuring notable alumni, surprise guest appearances, and special performances.
Graduating students and their loved ones unable to gather in person amid the COVID-19 pandemic instead congregated online for a memorable and meaningful celebration of the university's more than 9,000 graduates, including more than 1,400 undergraduates.
The ceremony broadcast kicked off with a recorded performance of "Pomp and Circumstance" by Peabody students and alumni, conducted by Leonard Weiss. The ceremony's emcee was Johns Hopkins alum, actor, and professor John Astin, who famously played Gomez Addams on The Addams Family. As a "connoisseur of the odd and unusual," he was a fitting choice to welcome viewers to this year's decidedly different celebration.
Among the guest speakers to share messages of encouragement and congratulations with the graduates were philanthropist and former New York City Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg and Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases and a leading member of the White House Coronavirus Task Force. Fauci acknowledged that while holding a virtual Commencement ceremony was surely disappointing, the adaptability and resilience JHU's graduates have shown in the past few months are the same qualities needed to face an ongoing global public health crisis.
"We need your talent, your energy, your resolve, and your character to get through this difficult time," Fauci said.
During his remarks, Johns Hopkins University President Ronald J. Daniels discussed The Myth of Sisyphus by Albert Camus, a philosophical text that compares man's existence with a Greek myth about a man condemned to the meaningless and eternal task of rolling a boulder up a hill, only to have it roll back down again. According to Camus, Daniels said, Sisyphus is in fact master of his own fate—a man whose struggle gives meaning to his life.
"What Camus teaches us is that however constraining external circumstances may be, however upended our plans, we cannot relinquish the imperative for life," Daniels said. "We must do the work and take the actions that matter to us. Struggle towards the heights. And through that struggle, fill our hearts with purpose and meaning."
He continued: "I know this: You are more than ready."
Senior class president Pavan Patel said the Class of 2020 is "ready to make its mark" in his speech. "Few classes graduate into an environment as desperately in need of our solutions and sacrifices as this one," he said. "And few schools are as well situated as Johns Hopkins to graduate problem-solvers for the present time and our shared future. We, as Hopkins graduates, are uniquely prepared to confront and overcome the crises we face and to build the world we need."
The ceremony also featured special messages from notable Johns Hopkins alumni, including Eva Chen, vice president of fashion partnerships for Instagram; Zeid Ra'ad al Hussein, former high commissioner for human rights for the United Nations; U.S. Rep. Lauren Underwood; Jeffrey Raider, founder of Warby Parker and Harry's; singer-songwriter Tori Amos; Gail McGovern, president and CEO of the American Red Cross; NBC News Chief White House Correspondent Hallie Jackson; and author and entrepreneur Wes Moore.
The Commencement speaker was internet entrepreneur Alexis Ohanian, who co-founded the news aggregator Reddit after his own college graduation in 2005.
"The strongest entrepreneurs," he said, "all share the same quality—an ability to adapt to circumstances that you cannot control and focus your energy on changing the things and improving the areas you can."