Zelenskyy gives surprise commencement speech, receives honorary degree

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy delivered a surprise commencement address to graduates of Johns Hopkins University on Thursday. 

He delivered the surprise address virtually, and appeared on the big screens set up at the ceremony. 

“I’m certain you, as your forefathers, will continue to lead the free world. And this century will be our century, a century where freedom, innovation, and democratic values reign,” Zelenskyy told the graduates. “A century where tyrannies that repress their own and seek to enslave their neighbors will vanish from us once and for all. But all of our tomorrows, and the tomorrows of our children and grandchildren, depend on each of our todays. On each of our todays.”

Zelenskyy, who was a television personality and comedian before entering politics, dipped into humor before getting into his address. He promised to be brief with his remarks so as not to delay the graduates’ celebrations. 

But he went on to say that time is our most precious resource.

“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,” he said. “Time. The very flow of time convinces us of this. Some people realize this sooner, and these are the lucky ones. Others realize it too late when they lose someone or something. People cannot avoid it. This is just a matter of time.”

What’s the deal with celebrity commencement speeches?

Tom Hanks gave the commencement speech at Harvard, and other celebrities have made memorable speeches in the past.


He wrapped up the 10-minute address by thanking the United States, Congress and President Joe Biden for their support of Ukraine. 

Zelenskyy’s address comes days after heading to Japan to meet with G7 leaders. 

Johns Hopkins University President Ron Daniels also presented Zelenskyy with an honorary degree. 

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