Ukraine’s Zelensky delivers surprise commencement speech to Johns Hopkins grads

Ukraine's president on screen addressing Johns Hopkins graduation ceremony
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky addresses the graduating class at Johns Hopkins University via livestream Thursday.
(Will Kirk / Johns Hopkins University via AP)

During a surprise commencement address to graduates of Johns Hopkins University, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky told them to take advantage of their time and resources to pursue their passions and uphold the democratic values at stake in his country’s war against Russia.

He spoke Thursday via livestream from Ukraine, where the ongoing conflict has negatively affected the futures of countless young Ukrainians, robbing them of opportunities and loved ones, Zelensky said. He told Hopkins graduates to make the most of every moment.

“Time is the most valuable resource on the planet,” he said. “Some people realize this sooner, and these are the lucky ones. Others realize it too late, when they lose someone or something.”


He also thanked U.S. leaders for their support since the Russian invasion, including significant investments in humanitarian and military aid.

President Biden announced last week an agreement between the U.S. and European nations to supply Ukraine with F-16 fighter jets, fulfilling a long-standing request from Ukrainian leaders. Zelensky spent months pressing the West to provide his forces with American-made jets as his troops continue trying to repel Russian forces, with the conflict now in its second year.

During his remarks Thursday, Zelensky described a recent visit with Ukrainian troops on the front lines, saying many soldiers have dreams and aspirations similar to those of the American graduating students. The difference is that young Ukrainians are forced to endure the collective tragedy of war before chasing their dreams, he said.

When Russia invaded Ukraine, companies were quick to respond, some announcing they would get out of Russia. Following through hasn’t been easy.

“You have to know exactly what you need today — and what you want your tomorrows to look like,” Zelensky said.

The commencement ceremony took place at Homewood Field on the university’s Baltimore campus.

The university announced Zelensky’s address with the ceremony already underway, just minutes before his remarks were set to begin.

“His appearance will be a complete surprise for those in attendance,” a news release said.

Two Ukrainian veterans who lost limbs after war broke out in the east in 2014 have taken part in a walk to raise money for medical equipment.

Zelensky, whose response to the Russian invasion has made him an international symbol of democracy, said he’s confident that future generations of American leaders will continue championing democratic values around the world.

University President Ronald Daniels awarded Zelensky an honorary doctor of humane letters degree after his speech.

Daniels had sent a letter to Zelensky asking him to speak at the ceremony,
according to university spokesperson Jill Rosen.

In the letter, Daniels expressed his hope that “one of our era’s great democratic leaders would speak to the next generation of leaders, reinforcing in them the importance of holding fast to one’s principles and meeting with fortitude and humility the challenging moments of history that they will surely face in the years ahead.”