Commencement 2001

December 7, 2001 Commencement Address

December 7, 2001 Commencement Address

Thank you, President Kirwan, members of the Board of Trustees, distinguished guests, fellow faculty members, graduating students, and our very special guests: the parents, friends and loved ones of our students.

I also want to thank President Kirwan, Provost Ray, and my colleagues for bestowing on me the remarkable honor to speak with this extraordinary group of graduates. I thank my wife Corrie for lifelong support that brings me here today. However, I must say that I feel extremely humbled as the focus of your attention.

Today, the spotlight should be shining on you, our graduates, for your great accomplishments. And it should be shining on the parents and family members here who worked toward this moment for so many years and in so many ways.

I extend my heartfelt congratulations to each and every family member for a job very well done.

The course of civilization has not yet been changed by a commencement address – and I guarantee this speech will be consistent with that. I lack the pomp to predict the future for you, and I lack the circumstance to give you sage advice.

As for advice, I think Harry Truman was right when he said: “I have found the best way to give advice to your children is to find out what they want and then advise them to do it.”

So, what did you want when you joined Ohio State four years ago? More likely, five years ago – or maybe like one of today’s graduates, 15 years ago? No matter how long, what has this experience been all about?

During my own undergraduate days, having a good time is what university life seemed to be all about. This was during the early ‘70s, and for my classmates and me, we had two main goals: To avoid being drafted into the Vietnam War and to try to meet women.

I accomplished half those goals. Draft numbers were based on birthdays – from 1 to 365. Mine was an unforgettable 354.

As for meeting women, I made the low-cost decision to attend Rutgers University, which was at the time a male-only campus. The only females I met were the rats we dissected in general biology.

Those carefree, draft-dodging, rodent-trashing times have passed. The military is now – quite properly – a heroic profession. And biologists now face activists who trash research for the rights of rodents.

Today’s student still likes to have a good time. I imagine most of you did last night or will tonight! But this class must soon satisfy society’s broader, more complex, and more demanding expectations.

We live in a world of cloning and genetically enhanced food. A world of instant data, global communication, and information piracy. A world coping with mammoth technological upheaval. A world facing the greatest environmental challenges since extinction of the dinosaurs. A world of unprecedented ethical dilemmas.

I saw Norman Bourlaug a few weeks ago at a food & agriculture conference in Beijing, China. He won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1970 for the Green Revolution, a solution to global food needs. He’s very sad that we dubbed it the Green Revolution, as it implies that it was a finite moment – that it’s done and over.

The need to solve the world’s food needs as our populations continue to explode are as urgent today as when Bourlaug earned the Nobel Prize three decades ago.

In any discipline, you will find that yesterday’s problems are in need of today’s solutions. And these solutions must come from you.

Today’s students rightfully expect the university to help them do more – perhaps even help them do something big – or is that “something great?”

Ms. Carrie Kincaid earns her B.S. in food science today, and I am confident she will do something great. Carrie told me she loved the fact that despite the large size of the university, students still receive personal attention and top-notch guidance.

Top-notch faculty members stand behind you now as you face terrific challenges and wonderful opportunities.

Ohio State’s faculty helped empower you to participate in this human race with an education that is unsurpassed.

Now, you are ready to, as the poet Maya Angelou urges, take life by the lapels and say to it, “I’m with you kid, let’s go.”

At Ohio State there is a power that is greater than what you learned from lectures, from textbooks or tests. The power you now have is quite extraordinary. Do you know what it is?

Let me tell you some stories about building for tomorrow to illustrate the power you possess.

We just built a new Parker Food Science Building that includes a campus ice cream store. A design requirement was to foster interaction between students, staff and faculty members. You can enjoy a Drumstick ice cream cone and interactively learn from food and agriculture.

We built this building with a generous outpouring of support from private donors. In the course of the campaign I met many alumni who gladly gave to our new building and gave to support our students.

This passionate support from Ohio State graduates is phenomenal, and it’s peerless. It comes from people who know staying connected to our tree of Buckeyes is priceless – our branches spread worldwide and connect every field of endeavor.

One of today’s graduates who was educated in the building we built is Mark Garner, who earns his B.A. in economics. Mark is now in his 15th year after starting at Ohio State in 1986. He worked full time at a food packaging company, Combibloc Inc., to pay for this education. His boss, Steve Taylor, is here supporting him today, as he did during all those years of just-when-there’s-time learning.

Mark told me, “The people here inspired me. I’m a people person, and I will live or die based on my people network.” Mark, wife Diana, and mom Fran Minix are now part of the Ohio State family.

So, after 15 years at Ohio State what are Mark’s plans? Will he seek better seats in the shoe? NO! He will now re-enroll in food science to continue building his lifelong learning network. Good luck, and welcome back, Mark, from your food science family.

One of our food science doctoral graduates here today is Corey Edison Scott, who spoke at the grand opening of our new building.

Dr. Scott was raised in Lexington, North Carolina, by his mom Teresa, a hard-working school principal who instilled in him the value of education. His dad, Larry Scott, was a brickmason and helped build Corey’s life. Although Corey had never before left North Carolina, he knew Ohio State has the right stuff to help him meet his goals.

Now, on achieving the highest level of education, Corey shares this wisdom: “Never stop learning.” He will use his professional network to help improve the human condition. Corey told me “There are many African- American MVP’s, and it’s now time for more African- American Ph.D.’s.”

Corey, Provost Ray probably should have asked you to deliver this speech.

Dr. Corey Scott will now join industry to help improve food – and my only prediction today is that he – and all his fellow graduates – will each do something great. They will achieve it– not in isolation, but as a member of an extensive network of friends.

President George W. Bush told the graduates at Yale: “I made a lot of lifelong friends. What stays with you from college is the part of your education you hardly ever notice at the time. It’s the… friends you make.” Ohio State is undeniably good at affirming thy friendships.

These friendships in this fast-growing Buckeye tree connect multi-cultural and diverse backgrounds. This is one of Ohio State’s key ingredients for success.

We benefit from diversity. Scholars know different people see different ways to go from point A to point B. These varying perspectives make it much more likely we will actually get from A to B. Diversity is a solution. It is strength.

This strength continues in spite of September 11. Intelligent people do not affix blame based on race, religion, or country of origin.

One of our food science students is Middle Eastern, and he was merely 20 miles from the World Trade Center, working at an internship, on that infamous day.

He told me that when it happened, all work stopped, and he felt like a bucket of ice water had been thrown on him in the middle of January.

He now faces the dilemma of seeking employment while his name arouses suspicion. He sees our nation of immigrants as a mob now willing to hang greatness in the name of security.

I know how he feels.

I encountered far too many ignorant people while growing up in New Jersey during the Vietnam War. An annoying few assumed all Asians were the enemy. With some irony, it was on the subway platform of the World Trade Center that I was assaulted by a rude and drunken man who called me a gook.

My parents lived with the same suspicions, being mistaken for Japanese during World War Two. Although they weren’t interned, their life was hell. Despite U.S. citizenship and a degree from Fordham University, my father’s postgraduate options were limited to a Chinese laundry. I am the first in four generations with options beyond laundry, restaurant, or service.

Over the four generations my American family has called this country home, there has been a remarkable revolution. Today, the value of diverse perspectives and diverse people is fueled by a university system that is the engine of social improvement.

You are the heart of that university system, and you have made possible these achievements in diversity. The progress often is so gradual that you may not notice it, but thanks to you, we live in a richer and better place.

I ask for your help in making this great nation a safe place to be different. Although it remains to be seen who can be punished for September 11, it is now hard to be Middle Eastern or Islamic. Educated people realize that where your ancestors were born does not make you the enemy. For all hurt by the events of September 11 – or by a prior day of infamy exactly 60 years ago – we all share the sorrow and we all must work together to build better days ahead.

Last week I met Tommy Thompson in Washington, he was my governor when I was at Wisconsin, and he is now Secretary of Health and Human Services.

Secretary Thompson grew up in the food profession – his dad was a grocer. And now he is working to win a war. He had just come from a cabinet meeting dealing with terror and security, yet his advice to you today transcends terror. He wants each Ohio State graduate to “do something good for humanity” and build upon “civility, kindness, generosity, and passion.”

Today, your graduating class joins a nation at war. Your graduating class joins a nation of immigrants. Your graduating class will improve the human condition. Your graduating class is the one that finally won a football game at Michigan!

You are the most intelligent, highly motivated students from Ohio and the nation. You are inspired to impact the world.

Yours is a class like none other before.

Your class joins an extensive network of friends – visible achievers and hidden expediters all over this planet, who will help you in every endeavor. Ohio State alumni are your lifelong supporters. They are your phone-a-friends, your 50:50, your private audience. Use this network to find your answer.

Grow on this tree of buckeye branches. Help it provide shade, shelter, and solace for all society.

Albert Einstein wrote that we all experience our thoughts, our feelings, and ourselves as something separate and alone. He wrote: “This delusion is a kind of prison, restricting us to our personal desires and to affection for a few persons nearest to us. Our task must be to free ourselves from this prison by widening our circle of compassion to embrace all living creatures, and the whole of nature in its beauty.”

Here at Ohio State, you have grown lasting friendships, and this compelling campus will always be your home.

Here at Ohio State, you have acquired a worldly education that will widen your own circle of compassion and learning.

Here at Ohio State, we are proud of what you achieved – and we eagerly anticipate what you will accomplish.

Now, you are poised to find your place among the branches of humanity and to solve the challenges of the day. With our global community of friends, you have the power to make a difference. You are empowered to do something great.

Graduates, congratulations – and stay connected to Ohio State!