Spring 2022 Commencement Remarks

The following remarks were delivered during spring commencement on Sunday, May 8, 2022, in Ohio Stadium.

 

Graduates, congratulations!

I am so honored to share this commencement with you and your loved ones. And it is so wonderful to be in the ’Shoe and celebrating.

But before I begin singing the praises of the amazing Class of 2022, I have to recognize the people who supported you along the way — especially the mothers and the motherly influences.

You have contributed to the development of brilliant students who have demonstrated tremendous character and resilience in persisting to this moment during a pandemic.

Congratulations on the great work. Happy Mother’s Day to all of you!

We are not only celebrating the 100th anniversary of Ohio Stadium this spring, we are about to celebrate the 50th anniversary of Title IX, which prohibited discrimination on the basis of sex in any educational program receiving federal assistance.

Title IX has had many positive effects on Buckeye Nation — but the most thrilling is the way it expanded opportunities for Ohio State’s amazing women athletes.

In the Class of 2022, they include Emily Nothnagle of our national champion pistol team, who used her fifth year under NCAA rules to declare a third major — in anthropology as well as music and psychology; and Sophie Jaques, defender on our national champion women’s hockey team, a civil engineering major with a 3.75 GPA and the nationwide winner of the Arthur Ashe Jr. Female Sports Scholar of the Year award.

And also congratulations to our national champion synchronized swimming team, whose cumulative GPA is 3.65.

While Title IX was a landmark, by the time it passed, Ohio State had already been highly engaged in breaking down barriers for 99 years. The Cannon Act that chartered a centrally located institution named The Ohio Agricultural and Mechanical College, later to be called The Ohio State University, said that we were open to “all persons over 14 years of age,” and we admitted women and minorities from the start.

Spreading opportunity widely is our founding mission — allowing people from ordinary backgrounds to do extraordinary things.

And we always made it possible for women to far exceed society’s expectations for them.

We have proof here today, as we graduate a fourth-generation Buckeye, Chris Huffman, who will be receiving his Bachelor of Science in health sciences. This is the 100th anniversary of the Ohio State graduation of his great-grandmother, Evajean Huffman. I am sure that Evajean was extraordinary, and I know she would be very proud, Chris!

The Ohio State University represents the constant expansion of opportunities, and all of our graduates today have benefited from that.

But as we celebrate your accomplishments, I want to invoke the words of the legendary Buckeye football coach Woody Hayes: I urge you to “pay forward” by creating opportunities for others.

As Woody liked to say, you can never fully “pay back” — and give everyone in the previous generations who supported you the full measure of your gratitude — because they won’t always be around. But you can honor their goodness by paying forward.

Our honorary degree recipients have done just that: Mr. Pat Gelsinger has paid forward by advancing semiconductors that improve lives and empower so many people in so many ways — and through philanthropy.

Senator Rob Portman has paid forward through long public service, both in Congress and as U.S. trade representative and director of the Office of Management and Budget.

President Freeman Hrabowski of the University of Maryland, Baltimore County has paid forward through educational innovations that have brought far more African Americans into STEM fields.

And Dr. Grace Wahba has paid forward by combining advanced mathematics and computation to turn data into information that helps us better understand our world.

I am proud to say that many of the members of the Class of 2022 are already paying forward.

I think of Tashia Roberson-Wing, who will be awarded both a Master’s of Social Work and a Master of Public Administration today.

Tashia spent time in foster care — but was fortunate in the people who were watching out for her in high school, including a police officer named Ginnie Wing, who was only in her twenties when she adopted Tashia. So, Happy Mother’s Day, Ginnie!

Tashia, who interned as a legislative aide in Congress, hopes to return to Capitol Hill to pay forward and to work for others in the child welfare system. In the meanwhile, she is raising the relevant issues with a podcast named “Diaries of a Black Girl in Foster Care.”

There are so many ways to spread opportunity.

Cameron Drum, who is receiving his bachelor’s degree today in finance and economics, founded Buckeye Buddies, a student organization that offers intellectually and physically disabled children the chance to enjoy themselves playing flag football and basketball.

Maggie McCarter, a double major in music and zoology, pays forward by playing her flute for the giraffes at the Columbus Zoo. They don’t clap loudly, but they are a very appreciative audience. Not surprisingly, the Columbus Zoo has snapped up Maggie as an employee, and she starts as soon as she graduates.

All of you make me so proud to be a Buckeye.

Before I end, I have one request of you, and of the entire Buckeye community. Throughout the year, we have lost students, faculty and staff members, including two students this past week — just devastating news. Our hearts go out to their families and friends at this moment of shock and grief. These, of course, come on the heels of two years of grief and loss caused by the pandemic.

Although all these loved ones and friends cannot be physically with us, their impact will always be present.

Let’s take a moment of silence to acknowledge our shared losses.

Thank you.

As I said, I am so proud of the great Class of 2022 — not least because you have said “yes” to so many opportunities for growth, for learning and for compassion.

It’s very easy for people with a lot of education to exercise their critical faculties and to say “nay” — and that can be important.

But I urge you not to let the nay-saying become your dominant means of expression.

It is much more rewarding to work to understand others, even those whose ideas you might disagree with.

Even more rewarding is choosing to stand for something positive yourselves.

Graduates, I urge you to focus on the “yay!” The world needs your energy, imagination and kindness. And I hope you apply them everywhere you can.

Congratulations to all of you again! And please stay in touch.

I cannot wait to see what you accomplish next.