My son, Drew, will be mortified when he reads this.
The fact that I happen to be the president of his university remains an uncomfortable, largely unspoken reality between us. But at the conclusion of his senior year, just weeks after he had to shake my hand (and even allow a public embrace) to receive his diploma, it's hard not to reflect on what his time at Johns Hopkins has meant to both of us.
Drew transferred to Johns Hopkins after his freshman year— despite the many arguments my wife, Joanne, and I deployed to dissuade him. We feared it would be uncomfortable for any student to attend a university where his father was president, that my role might cast a shadow setting him apart from his classmates. Drew, upholding the great tradition of teenagers through time immemorial, didn't listen to us. And we have rarely been so wrong.
From his first days as a Hopkins undergraduate, Homewood was Drew's campus. He found his calling in the supervised research he did in several life science laboratories, found lifelong friends on the cross-country and track teams, and found a new understanding of community while volunteering in East Baltimore's Charm City Clinic. And through these unexpected experiences, he developed a fierce affection for this university that will carry him through reunions for decades to come. Even better, as he grew more comfortable in his place at Hopkins, we moved from exchanging furtive glances on the campus walkways to full-fledged greetings—even when he was with his friends.
My experience, of course, is similar to that of all parents who marvel at the ways their children grow up and shift into adulthood during their college years. But I have been able to witness that transformation up close. At times, I see the old Drew when I return home in the middle of the day to find half the track team eating leftovers from our fridge while watching Simpsons reruns in our den. At other times, I wonder at the young scientist across the dinner table, who becomes so animated while trying to describe the mysterious mechanics of the brain to his awestruck parents.
I came to Baltimore because I wanted to be president of a great university. Five years into this job, my experience—like Drew's—has been much more than I could have hoped, and I, too, find myself completely captivated by Johns Hopkins, its uncompromising pursuit of excellence and all the ways it shifts the trajectories of the lives it touches.
So, while Drew may still be mortified when he reads this, I know he will understand this column for what it is—one father's grateful love song to an extraordinary university.
Ronald J. Daniels