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Ukraine's Zelenskyy surprises Johns Hopkins grads as their commencement speaker

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy addresses the graduating class of Johns Hopkins University via livestream from Ukraine on Thursday in Baltimore.
Will Kirk
Johns Hopkins University via AP
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy addresses the graduating class of Johns Hopkins University via livestream from Ukraine on Thursday in Baltimore.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy made a guest appearance at Johns Hopkins University as he delivered a surprise address to the class of 2023 at their commencement ceremony Thursday morning.

Zelenskyy spoke in a live video stream from Ukraine that was shown at Homewood Field on the university's Baltimore campus, where he was also presented with an honorary Doctor of Humane Letters degree by Johns Hopkins University President Ron Daniels.

In his 10-minute speech, Zelenskyy centered his remarks on the importance of time, in addition to indispensable ideals of freedom, self-determination and democracy.

Zelenskyy's appearance at the commencement ceremony was a surprise for those in attendance, the university said in a news release.

"One of the most common truisms on Earth is the advice to value or at least not waste time," Zelensky said in his speech. "Every person eventually realizes that time is the most valuable resource on the planet — not oil or uranium, not lithium or anything else, but time."

The Ukrainian president thanked the United States and the Biden administration for their unconditional support of his country in the war against Russia.

"I'm proud that Ukraine is not losing a single day in its defense against Russian terror. Every day we do everything, everything to become stronger, to give more protection to people, to save more lives," Zelenskyy said. "The United States has also not lost a single day in helping Ukraine repel the Russian aggression."

Zelenskyy compared the graduates to those fighting on the front lines in the war — as many are similar in age and have also completed or have plans to complete their education.

"They and you have similar hopes for life, similar expectations from life," he said. "But there is [a] fundamental difference that comes down to the question of time."

The university said that Zelenskyy accepted the invitation to speak at this year's commencement on behalf of Ukraine and "in defense of democratic values that allow peace, opportunity and freedom to flourish around the globe."

Zelenskyy's commencement address at Johns Hopkins marks his first speech at a U.S. college campus since May 2022, roughly three months after Russia's invasion of Ukraine.

In a May 2022 address to Stanford University students, Zelenskyy reminded the audience to pursue their passions post-graduation, something that those who were drafted into the war would not have the chance to do.

"I would like to wish to all the students, I would like to wish you a long and interesting life in what you're doing – in science, in journalism, in art, in whatever [you do]," he said in that speech. "I would sincerely like to wish you peace."

Zelenskyy got his start as an actor and comedian who played a fictional president on the Ukrainian TV series Servant of the People. Shortly after the series ended in 2019, he was elected Ukraine's sixth president.

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Jonathan Franklin is a digital reporter on the News desk covering general assignment and breaking national news.