"Our world needs heroes."
This was the message I shared with the Class of 2022 as they prepared to leave Hopkins this past May. One thing you aren't told when you become a university president is that you are obligated to think up new pieces of wisdom to share with students every year. It's never easy, but it's even harder to do twice in a single semester, particularly when one of the graduating classes has already graduated.
That was the position I found myself in over the spring when we celebrated two in-person Commencement ceremonies, one for the Class of 2020 and another for the Class of 2022.
The first Commencement ceremony was held safely outdoors in March for the Class of 2020, whose graduation two years ago had been convened virtually because of the COVID-19 pandemic. Even a surprise spring snow flurry couldn't diminish their enthusiasm as they celebrated their achievement alongside friends and loved ones at Alumni Weekend.
The semester's second Commencement was held on Homewood Field in May. While the ceremony itself was refreshingly normal, the experience of this class was anything but.
As I told them, their years at Hopkins were upended by a pandemic that temporarily shuttered much of society, an assault on the United States Capitol, and a ground war in Europe.
Moments like this call upon us to act courageously. That is a daunting charge, especially given our culture's tendency to lionize superhuman bravery on the world stage, which can too often dampen our resolve instead of inspiring it.
I called on our students to consider instead those unsung heroes whose quiet acts of courage infuse our daily lives. One such person shaped my own family's history. Her name was Dorothy Dworkin. A Latvian immigrant to Toronto in 1904, Ms. Dworkin came to play a critical role in helping European Jews flee to Canada in the years leading up to World War II. Among those she aided were my grandfather and his family, who were living in Poland in 1939. Not only did she help my family secure visas, she personally lent them money for steamship tickets across the Atlantic.
As a direct result of her actions, my family survived. Yet, I did not learn her name until decades later, when a colleague in Toronto asked me over lunch if a travel agent had played any role in my family's journey to Canada. When I said one had, he revealed that the agent was Ms. Dworkin, his grandmother.
Dorothy Dworkin was a hero. Our world needs more heroes like her, and I urge our students—those who have graduated and those just embarking on their Hopkins journeys—to see that we are all capable of living lives of heroism in concert with our most deeply held values. I believe they will.
Ronald J. Daniels