Zelenskyy gives surprise Johns Hopkins commencement speech

Before Johns Hopkins University graduates moved their tassels to the left on Thursday, they were sent off with a virtual livestream from a surprise commencement speaker: Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy.

“The United States has also not lost a single day in helping Ukraine repel the Russian aggression,” Zelenskyy said. “President [Joe] Biden, a strong bipartisan coalition in Congress and most of all the American people have … risen to this occasion and are leading the free world to secure freedom in Europe.”

In his speech, Zelenskyy focused on the importance of time, a resource he said is more valuable than oil, uranium or lithium.

The Ukrainian leader also spoke on how he recently visited the frontlines in his country, a trip in which he spoke with soldiers who have similar backgrounds in schooling to those graduating at Johns Hopkins, while others can only dream of such an educational opportunity.

Unlike American students, young Ukrainians don’t have as much control over the time they have due to ongoing attacks from Russia, he said.

“Will our air defense systems be able to save all the lives at risk? What moment in the battle can be the most risky and which one could be decisive? And how long will this war last?” Zelenskyy said. “We’re trying to get a grip on the time of our lives, what is happening to us.”

The United States has been a key ally for Ukraine throughout the war, sending tens of billions of dollars in military aid to the country in lockstep with European allies. Among the most significant equipment earmarked for Kyiv include Patriot air defense systems and Abrams tanks, and Biden recently announced a joint international effort to begin training Ukrainians on F-16 fighter jets.

Anne Applebaum, a senior fellow at the SNF Agora Institute and the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies, as well as being a staff writer at The Atlantic who has written extensively about the war in Ukraine and has interviewed Zelenskyy, introduced the Ukrainian leader.

It’s Zelenskyy’s first commencement speech since May 2022, three months after Russia invaded his country. In a video address to Stanford graduates, he outlined how the West can support Ukraine and urged students to pursue their passions, as many draftees into the war won’t have the chance to attend college.

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