Archie Griffin stressed the importance of overcoming adversity and recovering from life’s fumbles during his address as commencement speaker to the 2015 Ohio State graduating class.
Griffin, president and CEO of the Ohio State Alumni Association and senior vice president for Alumni Relations, addressed about 8,300 OSU graduates during Spring Commencement on Sunday at Ohio Stadium. A total of 11,037 degrees were earned this semester, according to the Spring Commencement program.
Griffin, the only two-time Heisman Trophy winner in college football history and a three-time All American in 1973, 1974 and 1975, told graduates that they will face failures in the game of life.
“At some point, you will fumble the ball. You will have a big moment in your life that you will screw up. You will fall on your face, and you will feel like you’ve done it in front of a stadium full of people,” he said.
But Griffin told graduates not to let those mistakes define them, and that learning to embrace failure is an important lesson. He cited the Buckeyes’ National Championship win, with a loss to Virginia Tech early in the 2014 football season and the death of defensive lineman Kosta Karageorge as proof of OSU’s perseverance.
“When you fumble the ball, it is a test of your faith and endurance,” Griffin said. “Your failures in life do not, do not define you. How you handle that adversity, how you pick yourself off the ground and come back the next day is the true measure of your worth.”
Griffin said he viewed his first year at OSU, in 1972, as a challenge to prove wrong all the “haters” who had initially told him not to attend OSU, telling him he was too small and should go to a smaller university where he might get to play.
“My goal was simple,” he said. “I wanted to make the team. I wanted to prove to everybody who said I couldn’t play here, I wanted to prove to them that I could play here.”
Griffin got his chance against the University of Iowa on September 16, 1972 during the Buckeyes’ first home game.
Griffin fumbled the ball on his first play, and Coach Woody Hayes promptly took him out of the game. He spent the rest of the game with his head in his hands.
Griffin said he went home and told his father that he had just blown his opportunity to make the varsity team. But his father didn’t let him give up, and he told to Griffin to keep working hard until his next opportunity.
Griffin got that opportunity the following week against the University of North Carolina. Only that time, Griffin walked off the field to a standing ovation, after having broken the record for most rushing yards.
“That North Carolina game was the most exciting that I ever played in and it happened right there on this very field,” he said. “Why did it happen? Well, in some ways I’ll never know. I count it as a prayer answered, a miracle, a convergence of time and space and opportunity that changed my life forever. But I do know a little part of it happened because my failure did not define me. Because I kept working hard. Because I found the joy and silver lining — no, I should say a scarlet and gray lining — in the test of my faith that produced endurance and made me better.”
Griffin also told graduates that commencement was a special day for not only them, but for their parents and families.
Griffin and his seven siblings were the first in his family to attend and graduate from college. He said “this accomplishment in the Griffin house was the one that meant the most to my parents.”
“Whether you’re the first person in your family to graduate from college or the 31st, what you accomplished today is meaningful, meaningful for your whole family. And like me many years ago, chances are you’re standing on the shoulders of giants in your family to do it,” he said.
Griffin mentioned that his son, Adam, was a graduate in attendance on Sunday, calling it a “scarlet and gray letter day” in the history of the Griffin family.
“Today is also a blessing for me because all the graduates become part of my extended Buckeye family,” he said. “Buckeye Nation is over 500,000 strong, and you take the Ohio State network with you, wherever you go.”
Kayla Karg, a speech and hearing science graduate, said she enjoyed Griffin’s speech and that graduation will be an unforgettable moment.
“Archie Griffin did an amazing job,” she said. “It’s nice to have someone who is a Buckeye, who we can relate to and learn about his amazing experiences here.”
OSU President Michael Drake said about 15 percent of this year’s graduates were the first individuals in their families to attend college, making this day representative of both an individual and familial transformation.
“No matter when or where a student begins her journey, or his journey, they are all now part of the Ohio State family,” he said “Wherever you go forward from this day, you will always be buckeyes and you will always be welcome back.”
Drake told graduates to lead a value-driven life, to always do their best and to not only envision their future, but envision their place in it, adding the future was theirs to shape.
“I know each of you, as a new alumnus, will lead the way in ensuring that this university continues to be a beacon, illuminating the clearest path to the American dream,” he said.
Drake asked Griffin to speak at commencement after Griffin was endorsed by the OSU Commencement Speaker Advisory Committee, according to a press release provided by OSU spokeswoman Amy Murray.
OSU announced April 28 that Griffin will step down from his position with the OSU Alumni Association to assume a new role as senior advisor within the OSU Office of Advancement.
Brandon Jackson, an economics graduate, said he was cheerful, sharing his commencement celebration with Mother’s Day.
“There is no greater feeling than I have right now, especially on Mother’s Day. I feel really glad to give my mother this present,” he said.
This year’s Spring Commencement was estimated to cost $415,000, Murray said in an email.