Hayden, who was awarded an honorary Doctor of Fine Arts degree at the commencement ceremony Monday at the Joseph Meyerhoff Symphony Hall, said graduates had a "greater potential" that could be turned to value for their communities. She encouraged them to not just expand their creativity, but to use it to help others find their own talents.
"And although some of your worst days may still lie ahead, you have already persevered and proved that you can face challenges," Hayden said. "And although there may be long stretches in between, you will continue to have those magic moments when what you've learned and believe come together."
Hayden was CEO of the Enoch Pratt Free Library system since 1993 before she was sworn in as Librarian of Congress in September 2016. She is is credited with expanding the Baltimore library system's electronic book collection, increasing the number of computers available to patrons, and overseeing the first major renovation to the central library on Cathedral Street.
Hayden was previously deputy commissioner and chief librarian at the Chicago Public Library. She is the first woman and first African-American to lead the Library of Congress.
Hayden told the graduates that she was "humbled and grateful" for her nomination for the position by President Barack Obama.
"It was especially moving to me because African-Americans were once punished with lashes or worse for even learning to read," Hayden said. "And as a descendent of people who were denied the right to read, to now have the opportunity to serve and lead an institution that is our national symbol of knowledge is a historic moment."
The Library of Congress was criticized in a 2015 U.S. Government Accountability Office report that concluded the library had not kept pace with modern storage and digital sharing methods for its collection. Hayden's predecessor, James H. Billington, retired later that year.
MICA's undergraduate commencement ceremony was held earlier in the day on Monday. Hank Willis Thomas, a contemporary artist, was the speaker. More than 600 undergraduate and graduate students in all received degrees Monday.
During her speech, Hayden spoke of her parents, who she said were musicians. She said she realized early on she "didn't have the talent they had" but they encouraged her to develop her own creativity, which lay in words and reading.
"I must admit, I was somewhat intimidated when I was asked to speak to you and meet with some of the most creative people on the planet," she said. She deadpanned: "I am a librarian."
Hayden concluded by telling graduates not to feel that they had to "create a great masterpiece and save the world" at the same time.
"Don't feel pressure to be great at all times," Hayden said. "You will be great by being solid and steady. You will be great by not trying for it, but by learning from failure, disappointment. You'll be great by continuing to learn from setbacks and continuing to have ... new beginnings. Keep reminding yourselves of where you've been, where you are and where you're going."