Ally Marotti / Editor-in-chief
Ohio State’s 402nd commencement began much like it had 401 times prior.
In a tradition as time-tested and standardized as any in university lore, the proverbial sounds of “Pomp and Circumstance” served as theme music for nearly 3,000 of the school’s most-recent graduates, who funneled and shuffled into their seats at the Schottenstein Center.
But, unlike so many graduations before, Sunday’s ceremony was OSU’s first Autumn Commencement wedged in between the school’s first two semesters since 1922 – a year university President E. Gordon Gee confirmed was long before “texting, tweeting and Taco Bell.”
Perhaps in line with the singularity of the day, the festivities’ distinctive color didn’t end there.
Gee, in an attempt to channel the words of a pop and country music superstar, reminded the class of 2012 that it could be the last time they were all gathered in the same place at the same time.
“In the words of Taylor Swift,” Gee said, “we may never ever be back together.”
It was one of several zingers that elicited smiles and chuckles on a day where such things were already likely present.
But much of the excitement, arguably, had to do with its commencement speaker, Jack Hanna, the director emeritus of the Columbus Zoo and Aquarium.
“Today is the highest and incredible honor that I have ever received,” Hanna said of his opportunity to address the graduates.
The moment didn’t appear lost on Hanna.
“Today you’re receiving something that can never be taken away from you,” he said. “(It’s the) most valuable possession of your entire life.”
Hanna, the popular zookeeper known as “Jungle Jack” to many, talked of perseverance, hard work and enthusiasm.
“You can make a living by what you get,” he said. “You make a life of what you give.”
But maybe most notably, Hanna made good on his promise to bring the zoo to campus.
“Can you imagine a world without animals?” Hanna, dressed as if ready for a safari, asked the crowd in attendance Sunday.
The notion quickly became a segue, as Hanna proceeded to, one by one, bring out a Siberian lynx, a black-footed penguin, a clouded leopard and a cheetah, which figured to be the size of the man himself.
The crowd oohed and awed as Hanna brought to light each animal’s origin and features.
Matt Harper, a graduate in mechanical engineering, lauded Hanna’s exhibition.
“It was pretty cool (that) the animals made it,” he said. “I think it was a pretty cool thing to do for commencement.”
Perhaps the point was to illustrate the depth to which Hanna enjoys his job – a point he wished to make clear and pertinent.
“If you choose a job you love, you’ll never have to work again,” Hanna said, before illustrating his point with recognizable names around campus.
“You look at Dr. Gee. You look at (football) coach Urban Meyer. You look at (men’s basketball coach) Thad Matta.”
As Hanna wrapped up his message, Gee had but one thing to say:
“I am so glad you didn’t bring a wolverine.”
The one-liner, in a way, might have encapsulated playful ease of a day filled with bouquets of flowers, kazoos, air horns and a roll of celebratory toilet paper lobbed just over the heads of the rows of graduates on the floor of the venue.
Officially, according to the official program of the ceremony, 2,910 degrees were issued this semester.
In a larger context, that figure might seem miniscule.
According to the program, OSU has awarded 128,478 diplomas over the course of the last decade, and 670,747 since 1878.
Like the hundreds of thousands of graduates before him, Harper was relieved to have finished his journey at OSU.
“It feels great to be done, it was a lot of work. It was a great experience though,” he said. “(I’m) happy to have gone through it.”
Archie Griffin, president and CEO of OSU’s Alumni Association, paid homage to that journey and, seemingly, the school’s football team’s perfect 12-0 season – perhaps one of the last feats many graduates witnessed as students.
“Despite the challenges in more ways than one as Buckeyes,” Griffin said, “you are undefeated.”