Addressing hundreds of University of Baltimore graduates at their midyear commencement yesterday, Mayor Martin O'Malley urged them not to shy away from challenges, relaying the chief problems that faced him when he took office two years ago.
Many people told him the city couldn't address runaway crime and spiraling drug addiction, O'Malley said. But in the two years since he became mayor, violent crime in the city has dropped by 24 percent and last year Baltimore led the nation with a 19 percent drop of emergency room visits for drug addiction, O'Malley said.
"Don't let the small group of self-appointed, self-anointed opinion makers put you in a box," O'Malley said. "The battle is always the same: whether you change the world or you let the world change you."
Mentioning the lives lost in the terrorist attacks Sept. 11, O'Malley noted that in the last decade more than 6,000 Baltimore residents were either killed or died of a drug overdose - more than the total number of victims of the World Trade Center attack.
"Surprise the world, we're counting on you," O'Malley told the graduates. "We need you."
O'Malley was the featured speaker of the two-hour program held before an audience of about 1,500 people at the Lyric Opera House. Making his last appearance at a commencement was University System of Maryland Chancellor Donald N. Langenberg, who will retire in the spring after 12 years.
University of Baltimore President H. Mebane Turner was making his next-to-last commencement appearance; Turner will retire in the summer after 32 years.
Also addressing his classmates was Ivan P. Eaton, who graduated with a master's degree in public administration. Eaton told the group that yesterday was particularly triumphant for him because he beat a 19-year alcohol addiction.
"Today, I stand before you a healthy man," Eaton said. "Except for the 20 pounds I gained."
Despite gloomy forecasts for the national economy, graduates such as Diane Harris said they were eager to test their new skills.
Harris, 50, works as a first-grade teacher at Carter G. Woodson Elementary School in Baltimore. But with her degree in public administration, the mother of one plans to go further.
"I'm a little nervous, but I'm excited," Harris said. "We're very well-trained, and I'm eager to get out and exercise my skills."