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Gee used Michigan rivalry to help bring Obama to commencement

Andrew Holleran / Photo editor

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After President Barack Obama spoke at Michigan’s commencement ceremony in 2010, University President E. Gordon Gee encouraged him to come to Ohio State.
“I joked with him. I said, ‘Well, Mr. President, you’re going to lose Ohio,'” Gee said in an interview with The Lantern editorial staff on March 25. “‘Because you gave the commencement speech at the University of Michigan and I want you to give it here.'”
Apparently Obama kept his promise.
Obama is slated to give the commencement speech to more than 12,000 graduates on May 5 at Ohio Stadium for the university’s largest graduation in history. Guests are required to have tickets at this year’s ceremony due to the large number of graduates, renovations to Ohio Stadium and extra security measures for the president.
“No one goes to anything, a public setting with the president of the United States, without having to have tickets. It’s just what the Secret Service demands,” Gee said. “And they’re going to make all of our graduates go through the wanding and a variety of other things, so I think there will be a little bit more of a delay, but I think it’s great (that) he would come and be our commencement speaker. So I’m very proud of that.”
In the past three years, Obama has been to campus five times, including when he kicked off his re-election campaign at the Schottenstein Center on May 5, 2012, exactly one year before he is scheduled to speak at graduation.
“He’s been here a lot. I mean, we had more presidential candidate visits than about 30 states last year,” Gee said.
From June to the November election, Obama visted Ohio 29 times, according to The Washington Post. Ohio made up roughly 12.7 percent of Obama’s visits in the final months of the campaign and no state had more presidential visits than Ohio.
Despite having a high-profile speaker for commencement ceremonies and high security measures, Gee said his job will not change on graduation day.
“I’ve conducted commencement ceremonies for 33 years,” he said. “I’ve had a number of presidents, prime ministers, Nobel laureates. My job is just the same, that is to make certain that we have a wonderful time and the parents are happy,” he said.
Each student was initially allotted four tickets for their guests. The number rose to six tickets per graduate, and graduates were able to take an online survey requesting more.
Lisa Gillmore, a fourth-year in communication, said she initially planned to invite 12 friends and family members to watch her graduate.
“Initially I was shocked and I thought it was wrong because graduation has always been an open ceremony,” Gillmore said. “I remember going to my cousins’ (commencements) and I wanted them to be there for me too.”
Gillmore said the online ticket requests could go to “10 or more” tickets but she felt constrained to request 10 tickets, even though she had planned to invite more than 10 people.
“I’m actually kind of scared because I don’t know how it’s going to work,” she said.
Aiesha White said she hadn’t considered how many tickets she was going to need before the announcement was made.
“I thought it was interesting but I wasn’t surprised given the construction and the speaker,” said White, a fourth-year in international studies. “I know a few of my friends with big families, and especially with a lot of siblings, were disappointed.”
Gee said he is hopeful every student will be able to bring the number of guests they want.
“I think it’s working its way through that most people are able to get the tickets they want for the significant members of their family and I think that’s worked out very well,” Gee said.

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