As Republican Sen. Mitt Romney began his commencement address at the Johns Hopkins University on Thursday, he was briefly interrupted — twice — by protesters.

The first came from West University Parkway, shortly after the former presidential nominee began his remarks. A few cars blared their horns and played other siren noises that could be heard across the stage.

“It’d be too bad if we didn’t have a demonstration, wouldn’t it be?” Romney said as the disruption started. “I think that’s the Good Humor truck. Does anybody want a stick of ice cream?”

Romney continued with his address and was fairly easily heard over the noise.

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After the cars cleared out, another group, sitting at the top of the bleachers inside Homewood Field, unfurled a banner that said “FREE PALESTINE” and “DIVEST FROM OCCUPATION” on it, and began chanting “Let Gaza live!”

Demonstrators shouted “Let Gaza live!” and were eventually escorted out of the arena by Hopkins staff. (Ulysses Muñoz/The Baltimore Banner)

Romney turned to face the protesters, smiled, waved and said, “Hi guys, we got the message.” The protesters persisted through Romney’s entire speech and were escorted out of the arena after the senator finished speaking. At one point, Maureen Marsh, a Hopkins senior vice president, interrupted Romney and said Hopkins supports free expression, but asked that the protesters allow the ceremony to proceed “without interruption.”

Johns Hopkins University was recently the site of a pro-Palestinian encampment that lasted a little under two weeks. The protesters and administration reached a deal to end the encampment that includes the university accelerating a process it has in place to review investments.

Music legend Stevie Wonder performed at the Johns Hopkins University Class of 2024’s commencement ceremony after being awarded an honorary doctorate. (Ulysses Muñoz/The Baltimore Banner)

In his remarks, Romney shared a litany of concerns, including climate change, artificial intelligence and the rise of authoritarian governments, as issues the graduating class would have to face as they head into the world.

Instead of panicking, or giving themselves entirely to their career, Romney said, graduates should define themselves by things they can control.

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“Your love for your family, your friendships, your faith, your service to others,” Romney said. “Treat your career like the game it is. Hoping to win, but don’t make it the currency of your life. The real currency of life is the people you love and the friends you have.”

Stevie Wonder, who was awarded an honorary degree during the graduation ceremony, performed, riffing on the piano and then performing “You Are the Sunshine of My Life” and “I Just Called to Say I Love You.”

Other honorary degree recipients were Romney, vocalist Renée Fleming, architect Maya Lin, investor and philanthropist William H. Miller III and political scientist Janice Stein.

Previous recipients of honorary degrees from Hopkins include Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, Reddit co-founder Alexis Ohanian, directors George Lucas and Spike Lee, former YouTube CEO Susan Wojcicki and Burmese politician Aung San Suu Kyi.

Ron Daniels, president of the Johns Hopkins University, brought his dog Barney out to meet the Class of 2024. (Ulysses Muñoz/The Baltimore Banner)

Remarks during the ceremony also came from the president at the Johns Hopkins University, Ron Daniels, and his dog, Barney. Daniels encouraged the graduates to “go small” — by, for example, asking the person at the coffee shop about the book they’re reading or chatting with the person you always see on your commute.

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“And get a dog. Take a walk,” Daniels said. “See who you meet.”

The approximate number of graduates this year, including the summer, fall and spring semesters, is about 11,450, university officials said. Students can receive multiple degrees, so the total number of degrees conferred was a bit higher: 12,016.

About 1,700 of those students were estimated to walk across the stage Thursday.

Cody Boteler is a reporter on The Banner’s Express Desk, reporting on breaking news, trending stories and interesting things in and around Baltimore. His work has appeared in The Baltimore Sun, USA TODAY, Baltimore magazine and others.

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