Spike Lee urges Johns Hopkins grads to reject division in commencement speech

Filmmaker and director Spike Lee delivers the commencement speech to the 2016 graduating class of Johns Hopkins University.
Filmmaker and director Spike Lee delivers the commencement speech to the 2016 graduating class of Johns Hopkins University. (Caitlin Faw / Baltimore Sun)

Filmmaker Spike Lee, speaking Wednesday during commencement exercises at the Johns Hopkins University, blasted Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump and urged graduates to unite, rather than divide.

Lee, whose films include 1989's "Do the Right Thing," spoke about the country's racial challenges.


"We are at an important moment in history," he said. "And the way I'm looking at it, it looks dicey. It could go either way. I don't know about you, but I'm worried for the graduating class."

About 1,500 students attended the ceremony at Royal Farms Arena with family and friends. Hopkins President Ronald Daniels also spoke about racial division and called a former Hopkins president a racist.


Lee quoted from Prince's song "Baltimore," which the artist wrote last year after the Freddie Gray riots. He mocked Trump, saying his brand of racial politics confused him.

"Can somebody please educate me. How do you tell Mexico to build a wall on the border and have the audacity to tell them, 'You can foot the bill, too?'" he asked.

"Let's build bridges of love versus walls of hate."

Lee ended his speech by saying: "Thank you, go with God, black lives matter."

Daniels told graduates he walks to his office every day along a lane named for Isaiah Bowman, the president of Hopkins from 1935 to 1948.

Bowman was a distinguished geographer who helped move the university forward, Daniels said, but was also an "unrepentant racist and anti-Semite" who introduced limits on the number of Jewish students admitted.

Daniels is Jewish.

"I have a visceral reaction to Dr. Bowman," he said. "He is a flawed leader whose ideas and actions are not only reprehensible to me ... but are arguably inexcusable in the context of his time.

"And yet his contributions on behalf of our university are real and undeniable."

Daniels said graduates should try to understand that paradox, rather than judging people by sound bites or tweets.

"We must be open to the complexities and contradictions of humankind," he said. "We must seek to understand and to reckon with greater complexity. If we do not, we deny ourselves the opportunity to learn from people's flaws or to be surprised, to be astonished by their abilities, by their actions."

Other college commencement speakers this spring include Under Armour founder Kevin Plank, who spoke at the University of Maryland, College Park on Wednesday night.


Best-selling author Wes Moore is scheduled to speak at Loyola University Maryland on Saturday. Former House Speaker Nancy Pelosi is scheduled to speak at Morgan State University on Saturday. Lt. Gov. Boyd Rutherford is scheduled to speak at Salisbury University on Thursday and at the undergraduate ceremony for the University of Baltimore on Monday.

Hopkins awarded an honorary degree to Lee and seven other people, including acclaimed novelist Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie and Susan Baker, the founder of the Johns Hopkins Center for Injury Research and Policy who is known for developing the Injury Severity Score, a system used to assess patients with multiple injuries, and lobbying for safety features such as air bags in automobiles.

College commencement ceremonies this week

•Stevenson University: Thursday

•Goucher College: Friday

•U.S. Naval Academy: Friday

•Loyola University Maryland: Saturday

•Morgan State University: Saturday

•University of Baltimore: Monday

University of Maryland, Baltimore County: Thursday

McDaniel College: Saturday

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