Sen. Romney's commencement speech at Johns Hopkins briefly interrupted by protesters

Sen. Mitt Romney, R-Utah, shakes hands with Johns Hopkins University President Ronald Daniels, Thursday. Romney was the university's commencement speaker.

Sen. Mitt Romney, R-Utah, shakes hands with Johns Hopkins University President Ronald Daniels, Thursday. Romney was the university's commencement speaker. (Will Kirk, John Hopkins University)

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BALTIMORE — In his commencement address at Johns Hopkins University Thursday, Utah Sen. Mitt Romney urged graduates to "have faith in America and in the future. We are a resilient nation," during a speech interrupted by protesters.

Sirens, shouts and other sounds suddenly blared as Romney was describing how "China and fellow authoritarians are working to destroy the liberal world order and replace American leadership," singling out what he said were Russian leader Vladimir Putin's invasion of Ukraine and murder of his political opponents and Chinese leader Xi Jinping's treatment of the Uyghurs.

Without pausing, Romney responded to the noise saying, "It would be too bad if we didn't have a demonstration, wouldn't it be. It's nice to make a difference." Then he added, "I think that's the Good Humor truck. Does anyone want a stick of ice cream? I'm going to go on. You can hear me all right."

That drew applause from the graduates gathered on the Baltimore campus' Homewood Field.

"And of course populists here at home are trying to do the same thing you're seeing from authoritarians around the world," Romney said, continuing his speech. As protesters shouted, the retiring senator turned and waved at them. "Hi, guys, we got the message. Thank you."

Shortly after that, Maureen Marsh, senior vice president of the university's board of trustees, stepped to the podium, to address the protests.

"At Johns Hopkins, we strongly value free expression and totally support our students' right to demonstrate. But we would ask that you now allow the ceremony to proceed without interruption," she said to some cheers and applause before Romney wrapped up his remarks.

The message of the protesters could not been seen or clearly heard on the campus' live streaming of the ceremony. The Baltimore Banner news site reported the siren and other sounds came from a nearby road while another group at the top of the field's bleachers unfurled a banner reading, "FREE PALESTINE DIVEST FROM OCCUPATION," and chanted, "Let Gaza live!"

The protesters were escorted from the ceremony, a university spokesman told the Deseret News.

'The real currency of life'

Ronald Daniels, the university's president, thanked Romney for his address and his "persistence in the face of some challenge. We heard you. We celebrate you and your message is meaningful. Again, we are honored that you are here. That's the Hopkins way. We listen. Open minds and open hearts."

Romney's speech included warnings that artificial intelligence is "the most destructive technology since the atom bomb was unleashed," and will be "100 times more powerful" within the next decade as well as about climate change. The 2012 Republican presidential nominee also said the U.S. government "is in commotion, reflected in the national division and political demonization."

He advised the graduates to deal with what he said is a turbulent world by not defining themselves by their careers, but "by things that are entirely in your control, your love for your family, your friendships, your faith, your service to others," saying "the real currency of life is the people you love."

Americans, Romney said, "have weathered wars and pandemic and financial crises and have always emerged stronger. The strength comes from the character of our people and from our leaders, mothers and fathers, pastors and rabbis, teachers and professors, and yes, even presidents."

The country's strength is "empowered by our freedom. American people pursuing their own dreams have overcome any challenge, any threat. Freedom is, in fact, a powerful elixir. The world is in commotion, but stability and meaning will be found in friendships, in love, and in commitments," he said. "This, in fact, is just what America and the world needs now."

Romney, the leader of the 2002 Winter Games in Salt Lake City, was one of several recipients of an honorary doctor of humane letters degree from Johns Hopkins, a list that included musician Stevie Wonder. Wonder, who performed in the 2002 Paralympics opening ceremonies held at the University of Utah's Rice-Eccles Stadium, played a medley of his hits on stage Thursday.

Wonder told the graduates as he played to "use your voice, your spirit to let the sound of unity and coming together for the meaning of ending all war forever all over this world that we live in." The war in Gaza was mentioned briefly by the student commencement speaker, Kristen Corlay Sanmiguel.

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