The following remarks were delivered during autumn commencement on Sunday, December 18, 2022.
Graduates, congratulations! And my congratulations to the family and friends who supported you along the way.
Earning a degree from The Ohio State University is always an achievement. But that accomplishment becomes truly special when you have overcome adversity to arrive at your destination.
Without question, completing your work here during a pandemic has not been easy.
First of all, there have been countless requirements so we could stay safe as a community. Many of you have had to learn virtually. You have had to deal with laboratory closures and physical distancing that made research difficult. Others of you have had to address travel restrictions that made your educational course less smooth.
But you will be able to look back with particular pride on earning your degrees — despite all. And throughout your life, it will remind you of all that you are capable of — and help you keep going through other times of adversity.
Some of you have triumphed over more than even the pandemic. I think of Jaelyn Johnson, who today receives a master’s in integrated systems engineering. Though she had the somewhat lonely experience of almost never having a Black or woman scientist or engineer as a professor at Ohio State, she persisted.
Even though she lived at home most of the six years of her education to save on costs and commuted to campus every day, she was often one of the first people to arrive at our Office of Diversity and Inclusion in the morning, where she worked on a research project in data science — and excelled.
I think also of Jayda Jackson, who today receives her Bachelor of Science degree in chemical engineering. She transferred to our Columbus campus as the single mother of a toddler. She had to plead her case to the program chair to even get into the major. Yet she managed to shine in every single way and is on her way to a great career.
I think of another transfer student, Dustin Highnote, whose path to a Bachelor of Science degree in construction systems management was longer than most — with military service and stops and starts at a number of other colleges behind him. At Ohio State, he maintained an exemplary academic record while working for a construction company.
And he somehow also found the time to lead the planning and coordination effort required to launch a military and veterans student organization at our College of Food, Agricultural, and Environmental Sciences — which has been enthusiastically embraced by his fellow students who are veterans, family members of those serving in the military, and those currently in military service.
So many of you have stories of overcoming obstacles on the road to high achievement. There is Alex Scampitilla, who spent his 20th birthday in quarantine with COVID — and who changed his specialization four times before graduating today with a degree in finance and real estate from the Fisher College of Business. A shoutout to Scampi, and all the “Scampis” here today who similarly quarantined and isolated due to COVID while at Ohio State.
I am so proud of all our graduates — but I am also proud of The Ohio State University for the ways that it has spread opportunity to talented people in challenging circumstances.
I am proud of the faculty members who allowed Jayda to bring her child to class. I am proud of my administration for addressing the dearth of minority mentors among our faculty — and of women in the sciences and engineering — with our Race Inclusion and Social Equity, or RAISE, initiative. And, I am proud of all we are doing to lower the cost of an Ohio State education with the Scarlet & Gray Advantage program.
As an institution, we exist to expand opportunity. As a land-grant university, we were created by a particularly hopeful piece of legislation signed by President Lincoln during the most difficult days of the Civil War — which opened higher education up to many more citizens.
We truly are a university of the people, by the people, for the people.
Nothing that we do is more important than giving people from ordinary backgrounds the chance to do extraordinary things with their lives.
Graduates, I hope that in your own lives, armed with an amazing education and your pandemic experiences, you deal with all future challenges with grace — and focus, always, on giving opportunities to others.
The course of life is not smooth. Even the most talented and brilliant among us will experience some hardships. The great Katie Smith had to deal with injuries that are a professional hazard in sports. She also got the opportunity of a lifetime — the chance to serve as head coach of the WNBA team the New York Liberty — at a crushingly inopportune moment — just as the team went up for sale.
When her coaching contract wasn’t renewed, she didn’t give up on her passion for motivating and teaching younger players. She moved to the Minnesota Lynx and continued coaching while volunteering at Upper Arlington High School and working with the United States Women’s National Team.
All of the people we have honored today have brought opportunities to others — Ms. Kara Trott by founding a company to help employees navigate a complex health care system — Dr. Paul Beck by illuminating one of the pillars of our democracy, as an expert in the behavior of voters and by teaching the next generation of scholars.
Here is the secret about giving the people coming up behind you their own chances to shine: It will help to make you resilient in your own life.
There is a lot of research that connects helping others with personal happiness. Behavioral scientists theorize that this is even more true when you are using your own talents and skills to mentor, to support and to promote your fellow travelers.
So, I urge you, as you build truly exciting careers and contribute to the world in many ways, that you also build your own reserves of passion and purpose by spreading opportunity wherever you can.
Graduates, I am so proud of all of you and cannot wait to see what you accomplish next.
Godspeed — and enjoy this great day!