Stocked with bottled water and extra camera film, thousands gathered on the Homewood campus on a warm May 24 to participate in and witness the close of the university's 125th academic year.
The university's milestone anniversary added an even deeper significance to this year's university-wide degree-conferring event held in the morning and the undergraduate diploma ceremony in the afternoon.
University president William R. Brody, as is his custom, addressed the graduates gathered for the university-wide ceremony. In his address, Brody spoke of the "special cause to celebrate" in regard to the day's historical importance.
"We are here today honoring not only the accomplishments of the men and women before us but also those who came before them, stretching back in an uninterrupted line for a century and a quarter," Brody said.
Brody told the graduates to be mindful not just of their IQ but their CQ, or civility quotient. He gave the example of Paul Revere and the much lesser known William Dawes, both of whom set out on horseback in April 1775 to warn the citizens of Lexington and Concord, Mass., that the British were on the march. Revere's mission was a success and forever cemented a place for him in American mythology. Dawes' sound of alarm, however, fell more on deaf ears. The answer behind this disparity, Brody said, lies in their respective rankings as good citizens. Whereas Revere had a lifetime of civic involvement and devotion that made him a known and trustworthy commodity, Dawes had no such base of support.
"No matter how intelligent, or gifted, or educated or capable you may be, in the real world, it is partnership and working with others that is most often the key to our success," Brody said. "My hope this morning is that you will recognize that there are others less fortunate than you for no reasons of will, intellect, education or desire. The obligation of civility extends no less to them than to your peers seated here with you this morning. And I hope that you will always remember this little bit of history: Paul Revere did not ride alone."
The conferring of degrees was a proud moment not only for the graduates but for their parents and other loved ones, people who those on stage and in the crowd said are owed a large debt of thanks.
"I guess the most special moment for me, because I've been married since I started graduate school, is when they asked the parents, husbands and wives to stand," said Eileen Emison, who received a doctorate in biology from the Krieger School of Arts and Sciences. "My mother watched my daughter every day while I came to school here, so it reminded me of how much help I've gotten along the way."
Beth Simon said she, too, didn't take the academic journey alone.
"While I was sitting under the tent, I was thinking of my first days here and how fortunate I was to have family and friends who supported me throughout this whole experience," said Simon, who had just received her Ph.D. in sociology. "There were many challenges at times along the way. Many of us questioned our resolve, but with their help we made it through to the end."
Most of the graduates agreed that the road to earning a degree was a long one. Longer for some than for others.
"I've calculated that I've just graduated from the 26th grade," said Kevin Wilson, who earned a doctor of philosophy degree in Near Eastern studies after six years of study. "It's been a long haul."
Wilson, of Scottish decent, wore a kilt for the occasion and said he had one overriding thought as he walked on stage to receive his diploma. "Don't fall down," he said with a hearty laugh.
Honorary degrees were conferred upon Karen Padgett Davis, president of the Commonwealth Fund; Alfred E. Mann, inventor, entrepreneur and chairman of a number of biomedical device companies; Maclyn McCarty, retired vice president and physician-in-chief at Rockefeller Institute, co-discoverer of the role of DNA in the transmission of hereditary information and father of Richard E. McCarty, dean of the Krieger School of Arts and Sciences; and Arnall Patz, professor of ophthalmology at the School of Medicine and director emeritus of the Wilmer Eye Institute.
The university-wide commencement ceremony, emotional and grand, served as a warm-up to the more raucous undergraduate ceremony in which decibel levels raised and flashbulbs popped furiously. Family and friends lined up in rows as deep as seven to capture the spectacle on video or to seize candid snapshots of their graduate. The cacophony of noise included bull horns and ethnic drums, whoops and whistles.
In what has become a commencement ritual, a beachball was batted around by eager graduates waiting for their names to be called.
Perhaps a sign of the times, many of the students came equipped with cell phones and digital cameras, to both stay in touch with loved ones and capture a bird's-eye view of their milestone event.
Before the ceremonies began, family did last-minute checks of their assorted electronic equipment and readied their voices to cheer.
Francille Ruckdeschel, whose daughter Emily was graduating with a B.A. in biology, said her family had brought eight cameras so as not to miss a moment of Emily's big day.
"I am excited and like incredibly proud right now," Ruckdeschel said. "She has worked really hard to get to this point."
Al Hunt, executive Washington editor of The Wall Street Journal, addressed the undergraduates. Hunt first spoke of his many connections with Hopkins. His father was a graduate of the class of 1934; his brother, the class of 1968; and his nephew, Noah Hunt, a graduate of the gathered class of 2001.
"Noah, I'm almost as proud as your parents," Hunt said. "And not nearly as financially depleted."
Hunt told the graduates to fight cynicism and to be optimists. In a world where many are jaded against politicians and the media, Hunt said, there are shining examples of citizens and politicians alike that are changing the world for the better.
He also lauded the students for their commitment to community service and encouraged them to continue with such endeavors.
"These experiences not only enrich you today but help fashion your character, which forms your destiny," Hunt said. "It is not simply that these are good deeds, but the rationale behind them is heartening. It is an idealism with few illusions; you are interested in results."
The text of President Brody's and Al Hunt's addresses can be found at http://www .jhu.edu/news_info/news/commence01.
Candid commencement photos will be online soon; look for them at www.jhu.edu.
FOLLOW THIS LINK FOR MORE COMMENCEMENT PHOTOS.