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Students take sides on OSU’s speaker

Karissa Lam / Design editor

In 2002, graduates at Ohio State’s June 14 commencement ceremony were removed from Ohio Stadium for turning their backs on commencement speaker George W. Bush. Almost 10 years later, students protesting the selection of Speaker of the House John Boehner as the speaker for this Spring’s Commencement have turned to a different medium: the Internet.

Facebook has become a method of speaking out among OSU students, with events such as “Not Attending OSU’s Spring Commencement Ceremony Because Boehner is a Bigot,” with about 10 guests or a group named “Anybody But Boehner!” with about five members.

Nick Dilenschneider, a fourth-year in Western European studies and German, created one of the more popular Facebook events, “Ohio State Says ‘No’ to John Boehner as Spring Commencement Speaker,” which has more than 560 guests attending. He said he created the event because the decision to have Boehner as commencement speaker is potentially provocative.

“I was really, really disappointed with the decision,” he said. “Admittedly, I tend to fall on the left side of the political spectrum, but I was really concerned by the fact that the university would pick someone who would generate such animosity from a large segment of the population, particularly the student population, based off of his political positions.”

Comments on the Facebook event’s wall range from defending Boehner as speaker to suggestions of how to peacefully protest during the ceremony. Dilenschneider said the purpose of the Facebook event is to send the university a message about the type of speakers they select.

“I’m fully aware that the Facebook group alone is not going to change the university’s decision,” he said. “The idea here is next time (the university is) making a decision, they really consider the diversity of the student population.”

One comment on the Facebook event wall was President E. Gordon Gee’s email response to Allison Zarem, a fourth-year in political science. Zarem said she sent Gee an email stating she was concerned about Boehner speaking at commencement because she feels he can be very polarizing.

“I guess the reason I sent him an email is because I don’t think it’s appropriate for people to complain about something without trying to do something about it,” she said in an email to The Lantern. “Realistically, nothing was going to come out of it. It just really bothers me that there appears to have been so little thought that went into selecting Mr. Boehner as the commencement speaker.”

In Gee’s email response, he assured Zarem that the choice to invite Boehner had nothing to do with his political perspective, but rather his history of remarkable professional achievement and service to Ohio and the nation. Gee reiterated those comments during his visit to The Lantern newsroom on April 13.

“The reason John Boehner was selected was not on his politics. He’s the third most powerful person in the country, politically,” Gee said.

Zarem said she didn’t expect more than what she got from Gee’s response.

“OSU can’t realistically invite the Speaker to address the graduating class and then take it back,” she said. “I think, or at least hope, that President Gee realizes why so many people are unhappy and uncomfortable with Mr. Boehner as the commencement speaker.”

Facebook groups such as “Best Damn Commencement in the Land (John Boehner fans at OSU)” have garnered about 60 members, and are evidence that not everyone at OSU is against Boehner as commencement speaker. Alexa Gudelsky, a third-year in international studies and Spanish, said she was proud that OSU could get a commencement speaker as powerful as the Speaker of the House.

“Regardless of what his political views may be, the fact that Ohio State was able to draw someone of that stature and power to speak at commencement shows how important this university is, and what kind of students we can produce,” Gudelsky said.

Dilenschneider said OSU could have picked someone else, considering the current political climate.

“I think picking someone who is not going to generate such a backlash would’ve been a much better decision, especially when you consider that Ohio State is a huge, diverse public university,” he said. “I think that you have to make sure you keep all segments of the student population in mind when making a decision.”

Zarem said in her email to Gee that she is particularly frustrated with the selection of Boehner because he openly seeks to abolish Pell grants, which are awarded to students without having to be repaid.

“I personally owe my degree in part to my Pell grants, something which the Speaker openly wants to eliminate,” Zarem said. “It’s almost like a slap in the face to have this man address our class.” 

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