President Barack Obama delivered Ohio State’s Spring 2013 commencement address on Sunday at Ohio Stadium, focusing on citizenship.
“Yours has become a generation possessed with that most American of ideas, that people who love their country can change it for the better,” Obama said.
OSU’s 403rd Commencement took place on an intermittently sunny afternoon. The ceremony began at noon.
Obama also quoted former President George W. Bush’s 2002 OSU commencement address, when Bush said, “America needs more than taxpayers, spectators and occasional voters. America needs full-time citizens.”
Obama told graduates that citizenship has been everywhere in the wake of the many tragedies in the U.S. within the last year, including the Newtown shooting in December and the Boston Marathon bombing in April.
“We’ve seen courage and compassion, a sense of civic duty and a recognition we are not a collection of strangers,” he said. “We are bound to one another by a set of ideals and laws and commitments and a deep devotion to this country we love.”
Adam Lanza, a 20-year-old, shot his mother at home and then killed 26 people, 20 of whom were children, at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., before killing himself on Dec. 14. Brothers Dzhokhar and Tamerlan Tsarnaev set up bombs that detonated near the finish line of the Boston Marathon on April 15, leaving three dead and more than 260 injured. Tamerlan Tsarnaev died and Dzhokhar Tsarnaev was arrested later that week.
Obama also gave graduates advice that despite their inevitable failures, they need to rise above pessimism because young people have the power to make a difference.
“Whenever you hear those voices saying, ‘You can’t do it,’” Obama said, “The trajectory of this great nation should give you hope. What young generations have done before you should give you hope.”
Obama wrapped up his speech with a simple challenge for the class of 2013.
“I dare you, class of 2013, to do better. I dare you to dream bigger,” Obama said.
A year before to date, Obama kicked off his re-election campaign at the Schottenstein Center where he spoke on May 5, 2012. He has returned to OSU twice since, in August, when he had lunch at Sloopy’s Diner in the Ohio Union, and in October, when he spoke on the Oval.
Some graduates felt that the best part of Obama’s speech was his lack of partisanship.
“I thought he did a good job of keeping it neutral and kind of putting an emphasis on bringing people together as opposed to just one political party or the other,” said Taylor Harvey, who graduated with a degree in strategic communication.
Another graduate agreed that Obama avoided veering to one side.
“I think he was pretty good about being neutral and delivering an address, a speech that was more toward us and not trying to promote himself, so it was good,” said Thomas Ingellis, who graduated with a degree in education and human ecology.
OSU President E. Gordon Gee also offered up words of advice to the graduates.
“Remember to stay curious, remember to extend a hand, remember to smile and always, always, always remember your alma mater. We will never forget you,” Gee said.
Gee also said that he has faith in the future for OSU.
“We are a city within a city,” he said. “And like any city in (2013) we are not immune from stark moments of reality.
“But make no mistake, (OSU) will stand strong.”
A total of 10,143 degrees and certificates were awarded to the second-largest OSU graduating class ever, the first at the spring commencement under the semester system in 90 years. The largest graduation was the Spring Quarter 2012 commencement ceremony, the last of the quarter system, where 10,642 degrees were distributed.
The first class of Post-911 GI Bill recipients in the country to graduate, made up of 130 veterans, received its diplomas on Sunday.
About 8,000 graduates walked at the ceremony and 57,187 guests attended the event, said Gayle Saunders, OSU spokeswoman.
Graduates were allowed up to 14 tickets for guests. Students were originally told they could order up to four tickets when Obama was first announced as the commencement speaker. The number was later raised to six and then seven, with an extra ordering window opening after that point that allowed graduates to order up to seven additional tickets.
Some of the graduates felt that the approximately three-hour ceremony almost went on too long.
“I thought it was kinda lengthy, but overall I really enjoyed it,” Ingellis said.
Other graduates were surprised that the ceremony didn’t take more time.
“I thought it was very well-executed. I expected it to be a lot longer, but I thought it went really well. It was awesome,” Harvey said.
Honorary degrees were awarded to Obama; Annie Leibovitz, a photographer who visited OSU in November and whose work was on display at the Wexner Center for the Arts Fall Semester; Thomas Pollard, a Yale University professor of cell biology and molecular biophysics and biochemistry; and Reinhard Rummel, a retired professor from the Institute of Astronomical and Physical Geodesy at the Technical University of Munich who has spent his career figuring out the specifics of the Earth’s gravity field.
Distinguished service awards were presented to Carole Anderson, who has worked at OSU for more than 25 years as an administrator and a professor of health sciences; George Skestos, a former OSU Board of Trustees chair and an OSU benefactor, as well as the retired founder of the Homewood corporation, a land-development and residential construction company; and his wife, Justine Skestos, also a university benefactor and a former longtime member of the Franklin Park Conservatory Board of Trustees and leader of BalletMet, the Columbus Symphony Orchestra and the Greater Columbus Arts Council.