The Johns Hopkins University
Wednesday, May 21 | Hodson Hall
[Note: Prepared text. Not checked against
Good afternoon. Just now as we came in I heard one student
say to another that missing Thursday's ceremony means we
won't get to hear Dr. Brody's commencement speech. To which
his friend replied: Why do you think we're doing this
We are dispensing with the speeches and some of the other
formalities of a full-blown commencement ceremony this
afternoon. But we will still do that which is most
important. We are going to use these few minutes to honor
each of our graduates for this tremendous
Graduates: This is a great day for you and for your
families. But it is also a great day for us, because we
rejoice with you in the completion of many hours of work,
much personal and intellectual growth, and innumerable
challenges that you have overcome. We are here to applaud
We also recognize the important role of your parents. They
share the glory of this occasion with you. Their
understanding of the true value of education, and their
willingness to sacrifice in order that you might have this
opportunity, should not be underestimated. Therefore,
parents, we honor you and thank you for being with us
To those of you who are about to receive your diplomas, I
extend our warmest congratulations. From this day forward,
in every aspect of your lives — within your families,
among your friends, in your communities and in your business
and professional careers — you will be identified as
graduates of The Johns Hopkins University. This association
will serve you well, for many many years to come.
As alumni, you will be critical to this university's future.
The constituency on which a private university depends most
is its alumni. And here I am not speaking just of the
generous financial support alumni give us.
Of greatest consequence, perhaps, will be the role each of
you can play as advocates of independent higher education in
a free society. From time to time, you will have occasion to
make clear to others why a university like Johns Hopkins is
willing to take risks to guarantee its freedom; why we
strive so hard to seek excellence in whatever we do; and why
we often run against the currents of popular trends.
On a more personal level, you, as alumni, will bring luster
to the university through your individual accomplishments.
In commerce and industry, in the professions, in government,
in education and research, our alumni are the proud heirs to
the Johns Hopkins tradition of excellence. And now it is
time for you to join their ranks.
Will the candidates for the degrees of Bachelor of Science
in Engineering, Bachelor of Science and Bachelor of Arts
[When the degree candidates are standing]
Gentlemen: By virtue of the authority vested in me by the
Board of Trustees of The Johns Hopkins University, I confer
upon each and every one of you the bachelor degrees for
which you have been certified by the faculties, together
with all the rights, privileges, and responsibilities
And further, gentlemen, as long as you are standing: now is
a good time for me to share with you the Three Snake
This afternoon we are celebrating your accomplishments as
students. We are doing this early because of your
accomplishments as athletes. Leadership is an elusive
quality. There have been a lot of books written about how to
be a great leader. I've read them all. Most of them are
bunk. But I have noticed time and again that great leaders
almost invariably spent some time as athletes, often as
accomplished winning athletes, such as yourselves. So I am
talking to you not just as graduates, but as future leaders,
which is why you should know the Three Snake Rule.
This was given to me by Jim Barksdale, the former president
and CEO of Netscape.
Rule No. 1: If you see a snake, kill it.
Rule No. 2: Don't waste time killing dead snakes.
Rule No. 3: Some of the greatest opportunities will
look like snakes.
This year, all of you as athletes have suffered some tough
losses. They looked like snakes. In fact, I think you will
see in retrospect they were great opportunities for
leadership. Believe me when I tell you they will serve you
well in the years ahead.
Now, therefore, although your direct and active affiliation
with The Johns Hopkins University is hereby concluded, I
must impress upon you that beginning tomorrow and for the
next several days, you will be on official university
As such we expect you to comport yourself in a manner that
will not only bring dignity, honor and respect to Johns
Hopkins, but will also wreak destruction, devastation and
loss on all our opponents. Go Blue Jays!
Gentlemen, you may be seated. Congratulations.