"A very peculiar situation."
This is how Johns Hopkins students—with typical understatement and resolve—referred to the fall semester of 1918. Of course, the situation was more than just peculiar. That October, against the backdrop of a war that had seen universities respond by transforming lecture halls into makeshift barracks, a deadly flu pandemic descended on campus that forced our university to close temporarily.
But our community was undaunted. Guided by a passion for truth and knowledge, our students returned to campus more devoted to their studies, while our faculty researchers joined the fight against this fatal and mysterious flu.
One hundred and two years later, our university once again finds itself in another "peculiar situation" as we face a global pandemic that has temporarily emptied college campuses across the nation, including our own.
Despite these challenges, the faculty, students, and staff of Johns Hopkins have responded with characteristic brilliance and determination, a forceful reminder that our community's enduring mission to pursue truth and understanding in the interest of the common good remains undiminished.
This commitment is on display across every part of our institution. We see it in the Hopkins researchers mobilizing to understand COVID-19 and to provide reliable public health information about it to people around the world. We see it in the collaborative efforts by our community members to provide meals (1.8 million and counting) to Baltimore families in need through the East Baltimore Food Access Initiative. We see it in the faculty and staff who have creatively reimagined experiences, from Orientation to the classroom. And we see it in our students who are making these virtual spaces their own as they forge new connections and pursue their education under unprecedented conditions.
Though our circumstances have changed, we are undeterred by the challenges we face. As I said to our newest Blue Jays at this year's virtual Convocation ceremony, a commitment to truth-seeking is endemic to our academic community. Indeed, no matter where we may find ourselves in the world, we are assured that the power of knowledge can overcome any hurdle we—and our communities—may face. This requires study and reflection, but it also demands vigorous engagement with ideas vastly different from our own whether in a Zoom call or around a table in homes from Cleveland to New Delhi to Baltimore.
Today, Hopkins is once again showing that we are a community singularly dedicated to our university motto: Veritas vos liberabit.
The truth will set you free.
And together, in pursuit of those truths, there is no situation—however unprecedented or merely peculiar—that we cannot find our way through.
Ronald J. Daniels