On a day that began short on Fahrenheit degrees, thousands
of the academic variety were conferred May 20 upon Johns
Hopkins' Class of 2004. It was also a day when comedian
Bill Cosby and thousands of chirping cicadas held center
stage on the Homewood campus.
Under brisk and cloudy conditions, the 128th
universitywide commencement ceremony started the day off at
Homewood Field, where more than 5,800 degrees and
certificates were conferred by Johns Hopkins' eight
academic divisions, and honorary degrees were bestowed upon
Supreme Court justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg and emeritus
professors J.G.A. Pocock and Hamilton O. Smith. Divisional
diploma ceremonies were held last week as well.
President William R. Brody, as is his custom,
delivered the universitywide address, which focused on
"giving back" to the community and your fellow man. He
concluded his remarks with a request.
"Though at this moment it may seem out of place,
starting tomorrow I want to ask you to give back to Johns
Hopkins," Brody said. "This is not a plea for money. The
greatest gift you can give back to Johns Hopkins is your
personal integrity, hard work and the fruits of your
discoveries offered freely to others to make a better
world. I am asking that you give the knowledge you have
gained here to the world on behalf of Johns Hopkins. Give
of yourselves. When you do, I have no doubt, great things
will come to us all."
William H. Cosby Jr. in his
self-designed graduation cap.
PHOTO BY HPS/WILL KIRK AND JAY
His words appeared to resonate with many of the
"When I was sitting out there, I was thinking about
President Brody's speech, on how we can all make a
difference in the world and not to get caught up in the
business of all the things [we have] to do," said Karyn
Anderson, who received a doctorate from the School of
Emily Engle, a Peabody graduate, said that the
universitywide commencement offered her a new
"It was very special that all the schools were
together for this particular ceremony," said Engle, who
would receive her Peabody diploma at its ceremony that
evening. "I really felt it was a larger community, and now
I think I will really feel like a Hopkins alumna, versus
just a Peabody alum. It really made an impact on me."
For the afternoon undergraduate ceremony, the skies
cleared for a moment and the thermometer climbed.
Cosby, who received an honorary degree of doctor of
humane letters during the ceremony, addressed the more than
970 seniors graduating from the schools of Arts and
Sciences and Engineering.
At the podium, Cosby took off his academic robe to
reveal a Hopkins T-shirt and sweat pants. He told the
graduates a story from his early nightclub days, when the
20-something Cosby was not yet a household name.
Ruth Bader Ginsburg receives her
hood from SAIS Dean Jessica Einhorn.
PHOTO BY PHOTO BY HPS/WILL KIRK
AND JAY VANRENSSELAER
The summer after he graduated from Temple University,
Cosby landed a gig at Chicago's three-shows-a-night Mr.
Kelly's, where "all the big guys play." Up to that point in
his career, Cosby said, he exuded confidence, or as he
iterated with his distinctive cadence, "I knew I was good.
I was good. I was funny, and I was good."
Yet, just before he went out that career-defining
night, his confidence failed him, and "demons started to
tell me that I wasn't funny." The negativity followed him
on stage, where he promptly bombed.
Dejected, he ambled back to his dressing room. Moments
later the club's owners dressed him down and told him to go
back to his hotel and tell the real Bill Cosby to show
He agreed to do the second show, but this time he let
his talent do all the work. He said he ad-libbed for 38
minutes and "just soared."
"It's quite obvious why I am telling you this, but
then again, you need to hear it. Whatever it is you're
going for, you show up. Don't make yourself nervous about
something. If you know your stuff, then you show up," Cosby
said. "Don't talk yourself into being that person that
nobody wants to see. Failure is easy, no problem. It's a
bungee jump ... . It is not for you to doubt, not for you
to say, 'But what if it falls over?' Because you're headed
in that direction, if you think that way. Your education
here, I assume, is fantastic [pause, laughter]. Now what
you do with it is another thing [laughter]."
Following the ceremony, students and their families
reunited in a sea of smiling faces. One journey was over,
and now began the rest of their lives.
"Graduation is a huge thing for the amount of work we
put in and the amount of effort we spent doing all this
stuff," said Matthew McKee, who graduated with a degree in
electrical engineering. "It's pretty neat to finally get
here and share the moment with your friends and family."
Shelly Solomon said that her post-commencement mood
was one of jubilation and realization.
"It was all very exciting. I liked Bill Cosby a lot,"
said Solomon, who earned a degree in public health studies.
"I'm still job hunting, and he joked about that in his
speech, so that kind of hit home, too."
For more about commencement ceremonies, including
President Brody's speech, divisional speakers and honorary
degree recipients, go to