I was once asked, "What exactly do you do as university president?"
It was my teenage daughter who wanted to know precisely what I did for a living.
Not confident that the question was entirely bereft of skepticism, I did a mental inventory of a recent week and shared my activities.
I had a pre-call for a pre-meeting for a meeting about the coming fiscal year. I signed scores of letters, waded through hundreds of emails, handed out dozens of doughnuts to bleary-eyed undergraduate students in the library, and logged 24 hours—a full day—on the phone, often while in the car en route to other meetings.
As I wrapped up my spiel, my daughter's blank stare told me all I needed to know. Except for the doughnuts, this did not sound like fun.
Clearly, I pitched it wrong. Because, in truth, this job is the most rewarding and joyous I've ever had.
As president, I have handed diplomas to students who are the first in their families to graduate from college and to a student who was the last of six siblings to walk across the stage at a Johns Hopkins graduation. I've stood amid colleagues at the Applied Physics Laboratory as they received the call that the New Horizons mission to Pluto had reached its target. I've traveled to Stockholm to witness Adam Riess receive the Nobel Prize in physics.
I've had the privilege to perform with an undergraduate South Asian dance troupe, surprise faculty members with $250,000 research awards, cut ribbons on LEED-certified buildings that change the way our scholars collaborate and our students learn, and stand with community leaders working for change in Baltimore.
I participated with alumni and friends in the creation of research and teaching centers like the Bloomberg–Kimmel Institute for Cancer Immunotherapy, aimed at harnessing the body's immune system to combat cancer, or the Grass Humanities Institute, devoted to addressing the enduring questions of our age through the humanities.
Indeed, I can imagine no other job that affords the privilege to engage so deeply with a learned community committed to the advancement of ideas, to connect so directly with faculty, students, and staff of remarkable creativity and intelligence, to be part of an institution that is fundamentally dedicated to changing the trajectory of lives through education, research, and service.
This spring, my daughter graduated from college. Like parents from time immemorial, I could not resist offering one final piece of sage counsel. So I told her, find a job that makes you happy. That gives you a sense of meaning and impact. That you would find fun to do. Maybe, with the passage of time, I've finally landed the point.
Ronald J. Daniels