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The newspaper of The Johns Hopkins University May 27, 2008 | Vol. 37 No. 36
Hats Off to New Grads

Academic year comes to a close with conferring of more than 6,000 degrees

By Greg Rienzi
The Gazette

Photos by Norm Barker, Jon Cristofersen, Matthew D'Agostino, Lesley Deschler, Alexis Ebert, Will Kirk, Vic Raspa and Jay VanRensselaer for Homewood Imaging and Photographic Services.

The winds of change blew through Homewood Field on May 22 as the Class of 2008 closed a very meaningful chapter in their lives on a gusty and cool spring day.

One could say the celebration began with french fries and flowers at the 132nd universitywide commencement ceremony, where President William R. Brody conferred more than 6,000 degrees on the graduates. Heading to their seats, many guests stopped to buy bouquets of roses and souvenir T- shirts for their loved ones, sidetracking to the concession stand for some early morning ballpark fare for themselves. Hot dogs for breakfast, anyone?

Brody delivered the address, his last as president, in which he said it's OK to question ideas and long-held beliefs. He told the tale of Barry Marshall, an Australian physician who persevered with his theory that stomach ulcers were caused not by too much acid, as the medical profession believed, but by bacteria that turned out to be spiral-shaped. Brody quoted a Nobel Laureate who once said that discovery consists of seeing what everyone else has seen, but thinking what no one else has thought.

"And you are exceptionally well-prepared to do this," said Brody, who is retiring from his post at the end of the year. "In so much of our world — in the sciences and humanities, business and politics, medicine and government — there are mistaken beliefs that have survived all this time largely through force of habit. They are spirals of misinformation hiding in plain sight."

Honorary degrees were conferred upon George Bunting, Ethel Ennis, Robert Fischell and Raymond A. "Chip" Mason.

For the afternoon's undergraduate diploma ceremony, students struggled mightily to hold onto their caps as the winds whipped through Homewood Field. Speaking of forceful gusts, speaker William S. Nye, aka Bill Nye, the Science Guy, proved to be one for the gathered 1,000-plus graduating seniors whom he instructed to "go out and change the world."

Nye, an engineer turned television icon, who received an honorary degree at the ceremony, interspersed his speech with trademark quips and a sobering call to arms, rolled up beautifully in one line: "There are some enormous, serious and grim problems that we want you to solve so that the rest of us can sit back and retire in peace."

He spoke of climate change, accelerating population growth and the need to better manage the one Earth we have. How to solve the world's problems? Don't reach for just the low-hanging fruit like recycled paper and energy-efficient light bulbs, Nye said.

"You in a few moments will be graduates of Johns Hopkins. You are among the very best in the world in thinking about new techniques, new tools and, if I may, new tricks to reach for the high- hanging fruit," said Nye, who has strong ties to the university. His father was a 1939 graduate of Johns Hopkins and his grandfather taught organic chemistry here. "Go after the big prizes, the great big prizes. That is what we want you to do. Change the world in new and exciting ways and, in Science Guy terms, hugely gigantic big ways."

Not in attendance at the event were 26 graduating members of the baseball and men's lacrosse teams. For only the second time, the lacrosse team qualified for the NCAA Division I Final Four in the same year that the baseball team advanced to the NCAA Division III College World Series. The university held a special ceremony on Wednesday in Hodson Hall to allow the graduates (11 lacrosse, 15 baseball) and their families to celebrate before the teams left for competitions in Foxborough, Mass., and Appleton, Wis., respectively.

After the Thursday ceremonies, families, friends and graduates reunited in a sea of smiles, hugs, tears and bouquets. Brody, who seemed to savor each moment of his final commencement as president, took time out after both to pose for pictures and seemingly congratulate every graduate personally.

As of press time, it's believed President Brody was still shaking hands.


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