Johns Hopkins University
Photo of happy graduates in caps and gowns

Remarks by William R. Brody
President, The Johns Hopkins University
2008 Special Diploma Ceremony
For Senior Baseball and Men's Lacrosse Team Members
Commencement Ceremony

The Johns Hopkins University
Wednesday, May 21 | Hodson Hall

[Note: Prepared text. Not checked against delivery.]

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 today?

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 accomplishment.

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 your achievements.

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 today.

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 please rise?

[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 pertaining thereto.

And further, gentlemen, as long as you are standing: now is a good time for me to share with you the Three Snake Rule.

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 business.

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.

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