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Zelensky Makes Surprise Video Appearance at Johns Hopkins University Commencement

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky addressed graduates of the Johns Hopkins class of 2023 via videolink in Baltimore, Maryland, on Thursday, May 25.

The speech was a surprise to most in attendance, with “the appearance of the distinctive blue and yellow flag of Ukraine in an introductory video” the only hint as to the speaker, according to the university.

Zelensky’s address centered on the importance of time. He told graduates: “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.”

After conceding that college graduates could perhaps waste some time, Zelensky said: “It’s impossible to give a manual on how to go through life so as not to waste its time. However, one piece of advice always works. You have to know exactly why you need today and how you want your tomorrows to look like.”

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Zelensky was also presented with an honorary degree by university president Ron Daniels. Credit: Johns Hopkins University via Storyful

Video transcript

- We could not be prouder that he is joining us today from Ukraine, where he is leading the struggle to keep his country free and Europe safe. Welcome, President Zelenskyy to Johns Hopkins.

[CROWD ROARS]

VOLODMYR ZELENSKYY: Thank you. Thank you very much. Thank you. Mrs. Applebaum for such a generous and yet brief introduction. Mr. President Daniels, Mr. Chairman of the Board of [INAUDIBLE] dear students, faculty, parents, and guests of the University on this day.

First of all, graduates of the class of 2023, congratulations on reaching this honorable milestone graduation day at one of the world's greatest universities. And if some of you are a little bit worried about whether my speech may delay your long-awaited graduation moment, I want to assure you that I will also try to be brief, perhaps not as brief as Mrs. Applebaum was at the beginning. But anyway, I will not be too long.

The time is of the essence. And it is that essence that I would like to talk about today. One of the most common truisms on us, either the advice to value or at least not waste time, why has it become so widespread? 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, 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. Now you can look back at the time you have spent here at the university studying. Did you get everything you needed from it? You have even more than time ahead of you, a whole lifetime. These are the careers you will build. This is your parents' pride, which they have every right to if they raised the children who graduate from Johns Hopkins.

These are your families who I wish you this, will bring you love. These are your children and grandchildren who will inherit a piece of your soul. Will you be able not to waste this time of your life?

This topic seems trivial, but these are very, very difficult questions for every person. How you answer them is how you live. And while it is still possible to find new deposits of oil or lithium and if, in the future, humanity can start mining resources in space, it is still purely science fiction to live longer than has been given.

But why am I talking about this now? Recently, I was on the front line again in one of the most fiercely fought areas of the front line against the Russian occupiers. I went to personally award the best fighters and to congratulate our marines on the Day of Marines in Ukraine.

And you know the front in Ukraine consists of very, very different people who are fighting for freedom and independence. These are people of all ages. And among them are exactly the same folks as you are now. Some of them have already passed their graduation ceremony, and others are only dreaming about it. They and you have similar hopes for life, similar expectations from life.

But there is a fundamental difference that comes down to the question of time. The time of your life is under your control. The time of life of our forces on the front line, the time of life of all Ukrainians who are forced to live through this terrible Russian aggression, unfortunately, is subject to many factors that are not all in their control.

Where will the next Russian missile or another Iranian killer drone hit, which Russia is so fond of launching at Ukraine? 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?

We are trying to get a grip on the time of our lives, what is happening to us. And by the way, if anyone here is going to become a politician, remember that this is exactly what your job will be, to muster time, to make the time of your people and country's life under the control of your people and country under any circumstances so that your people receive an answer to any question about what the time of their life will be like.

There may be calm times when it is a simple task for politicians. There may be very, very restless politicians who complicate similarly simple tasks so that they create real crises. There may be different things. And unfortunately, there may still be wars.

Of course, I do not wish anyone to feel like they are in my shoes. And it's impossible to give a manual on how to go through life so as not to waste its time. However, one piece of advice always works. You have to know exactly why you need today and how you want your tomorrows to look like.

You have to know this when you are a politician and have to achieve a certain goal for your country. You have to know this when you are a soldier and you have to defend your position so that the whole country is protected. You have to know this when you just have to go through life.

Sometimes however, when you are young and when you are a student, you still need to waste some time. What is life without it? But only sometimes, and when no one else depends on you--

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

President Biden, a strong bipartisan coalition in Congress, and most of all, the American people have, like the generations before them, risen to this occasion and are leading the free world to secure freedom in Europe. We Ukrainians believe that free and secure Ukraine is the final step in the struggle to liberate Europe from the evil bile-- from the evil of tyrannies, this struggle that brought your great-grandparents to the shores of Northern France some 80 years ago.

And I have no doubt you will all soon become great doctors, lawyers, engineers, and titans of new technologies and new businesses. Also, I'm certain a few among you will heed the call to serve and become members of congress, cabinet secretaries, and yes, maybe president one day, of course, after President Biden, of course. And please, somebody of you, please, we don't need surprises.

And 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, 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 depends on each of our todays, on each of our todays. Thank you, Johns Hopkins, for your attention. Thank you very much. Thank you, America for your support. Slava Ukraini.

[CHEERING, APPLAUSE]