On Wednesday, May 24, 2023, acclaimed film director, author and social critic John Waters received an honorary Doctor of Humane Letters from The University of Baltimore. In his acceptance speech, he reminisced about a few very important “firsts” that happened for him at UBalt, both as a student and again, years later, on his way to becoming one of Baltimore’s biggest cultural icons.
“I was thrown out of my high school—they wouldn’t let me graduate from Calvert Hall because of my long hair and truancy. I went to summer school at Boys Latin, somehow passed, and then went to the University of Baltimore with a big chip on my shoulder. But one teacher changed that—a woman named Miss Norris,” he said. “She encouraged me to write something…I did an inside job about my grandfather and how he was waiting for death. It got published—my first anywhere! And while my parents were horrified about the subject matter, they were proud I was in print. And here I am—58 years, eight books and 17 movies later.”
Three of those 17 films have an important tie to UBalt. “The University of Baltimore helped me even more, in 1972, 1974 and 1977, when they allowed me to hold the world premieres of three of my most notorious, trashy pics—Pink Flamingos, Female Trouble and Desperate Living—at the Langsdale Auditorium,” he shared with the crowd. “Yep, no questions asked; flat rental fee. No censor board could hassle me. Every show I did, I sold out, and I could keep all the money. They never balked at the subject matter. They never objected to the insane crowds that showed up. Nope, each premiere, they saved me and hid me with a cloak of education. And God knows I thank them.”