Four summers ago, I stepped onto the Oval in the hazy evening heat for a campus tour at orientation. There were so many stories to tell of the buildings that make up this vast campus. I saw tradition everywhere. It seemed like each tree was planted with a story, each building had something to say, and even the bells had their own reason to chime. Stories rose up all around me that night, showing me where Ohio State has been. But as I prepare to graduate with thousands upon thousands of my closest friends, I’m proud to say that we are standing at the forefront of where this University is going.
When we first began at Ohio State, we flew in on a rush of bravado and a bit of false confidence. We watched upperclassmen navigate this enormous campus with ease, envious of their poise and passion. We knew we’d be there one day, but we never imagined how quickly that day would come. There was so much to make sense of. We walked among buildings that were big, beautiful, but not quite ours yet.
Those same buildings, which we struggled to find during welcome week, became the backdrop of remarkable growth and change. They became laboratories of challenge, failure, innovation and laughter. We filled this place with our courage, our ideas and our daring plans that turned into positive change. We saw this place, felt the call of tradition, excellence and ambition rise within us, and made it our home.
I know you’ve all arrived at this moment after an incredible, unseen but worthwhile struggle. On Sunday we’ll hold those expensive pieces of paper in amazement and look toward the future, but for a moment we can look back at every exhilarating and ugly and unexpected moment of our college experience and be proud.
Everyone around you will see a triumphant, successful graduate who has finished the race. They won’t see the unglamorous, grueling work that brought you here. They won’t see the shoulders you’re standing on. They won’t see the all the ways you’ve dealt with adversity, confronted your doubts and grown into your authentic selves.
Ohio State Class of 2018, I am with you. I feel every bit of the pride and bittersweet nostalgia that’s running through you right now. You’re dying to know what’s next, how you’ll change, and who you’re on your way to becoming. You’re wondering what you’ll make of the life changing relationships and education you’ve had here.
I won’t pretend to have the answers to your burning questions, because I’m asking them too. You’re the one who’s really going to find the answers, and chasing them is going to be a lifelong adventure. But I do want to leave you with a few questions to think about as you step out into this world.
The first one I want to ask: Why not you?
The world will remind you, repeatedly, of how young you are. It’s easy to lean on inexperience and look for excuses to hold back. I challenge this, and I ask again, why not you? Why can’t you be the one who has our next earth-shattering idea or confronts our generation’s greatest challenges? Who are you not to use your voice when so many others cannot? You might find failure when you say, “why not me?” and go for it, but I promise that you’re still on your way. Fight the urge to be complacent when you feel yourself turning away or holding back. Your contribution and your voice matters.
Next, I ask you to consider: What matters most?
Think about the simplest, most fundamental things that have made your time at Ohio State worthwhile:
- That feeling you get walking across the Oval in the dead of night, a snowy Thompson statue watching you go
- Screaming cheers in the stands of the Shoe or singing old songs in the back of a bar with your friends until you went hoarse
- Coming back to campus after a summer or even just a weekend away and realizing how relieved you were to be home
The simple, unplanned moments have been what mattered most in your time here…and you can continue to find them in your next chapter. Seek to connect with others, to appreciate each moment and to create community. The time you spent really just being with people, unplugged and fully engaged, was what really counted. So in moments of inevitable stress and uncertainty, ask yourself, what matters most?
Third, think about this: What are you going to give back?
You’ll soon hold a diploma in your hand, but within you there’s an education and a collective experience that can’t be taken away. Use it to reach places you’ve always wanted to go. But give it away, too. Make time to volunteer and donate the way we Buckeyes do. A college degree signifies a great deal of hard work, but a great deal of privilege. Never reject a chance to let your education benefit your community. Your gifts and abilities will burn most brightly when you give them to others.
To be a Buckeye, with a nation of Scarlet and Grey behind us and a fierce drive for excellence within us, is no small thing. The burning questions you have are going to ignite this world once you begin answering them. I can see that fire illuminated in each one of you. Use it. From May 6 and each day forward, ask yourself these questions:
Why not me?
What matters most?
What am I going to give back?
And finally, each day you should ask yourself the most beautiful burning question of all. Ohio State alumna and distinguished poet Mary Oliver said it best. Tell me, she asked, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?