Drawing inspiration from advice he received from students, Ohio State history professor David Steigerwald addressed approximately 2,332 graduates at OSU’s Autumn Commencement Sunday at the Schottenstein Center.
“I looked for help by reading dozens and dozens of previous commencement addresses,” Steigerwald said of preparing his commencement speech. “One thing was missing — they all seemed directed to students rather than drawn from them.”
To break out of this pattern, Steigerwald said he asked students to share with him what they wished to hear. Many answered that they were tired of clichés and wanted Steigerwald to “make (the speech) real,” he said.
“You are so past clichés,” Steigerwald said. “I am not going to be telling you today to ‘get out of your comfort zone.’ But clichés carry a small bit of comfort with them. Give up the clichés, and you have to forgo their reassurances.”
Steigerwald teaches 20th century history at the OSU Marion branch campus as well as Columbus main campus and serves as director for the Department of History’s World War II study abroad program. A 1982 OSU alumnus, Steigerwald was awarded the Alumni Distinguished Teaching award — the university’s highest recognition for teaching excellence — in 2009.
Steigerwald was chosen as speaker by a subcommittee of the Speaker Advisory Committee, comprised of three student members and three faculty committee members, said OSU spokeswoman Liz Cook in a November email.
In his speech, Steigerwald drew parallels between his generation and the students that sat before him.
“We have left a legacy of international turmoil and economic bubbles,” Steigerwald said of his graduating class. “Many of you are looking uncomfortably out on the world you are about to inherit. Many of you do not see the straight lines to success that you thought were part of the deal.”
Despite the challenges and “bumpier roads” today’s graduates might face, Steigerwald said he has confidence that this class will reimagine their futures and “step forward” with optimism.
“You know the world has always been messy … Many of you are familiar with hard roads,” he said. “I am confident in your preparation — you are an admirably optimistic bunch. You are poised to rework the nation’s value. That is reflected in your public spirit.”
Jacob Malesky, who received a degree in mechanical engineering on Sunday, said even though he initially was skeptical of OSU’s choice for the Autumn Commencement speaker, he liked the originality of Steigerwald’s speech.
“He really was able to cast off the clichés and really tell it how it was,” he said. “I have been to the commencement with (President Barack) Obama and I have heard some of the previous speakers, so I was kind of at first a little disappointed in hearing that we had a professor speaking. But I think he did a really good job of capturing the idea of commencement and giving a good presentation.”
Obama spoke at OSU’s Spring Commencement in 2013.
Gretchen Weber, who received a degree in business administration on Sunday, said she was “pleasantly surprised” with Steigerwald’s speech and thought participating in commencement was an appropriate way to end her time at OSU.
“I thought the speech was really good and it was inspiring. Overall, I had a really good time and I am glad I came,” she said. “Ohio State has been awesome to me. I love it, and I love the degree I got and I love what it means to me and my family.”
Archie Griffin, senior vice president for Alumni Relations and president and CEO of the OSU Alumni Association, also shared some advice with graduates.
“Make sure you do what you say you are going to do … And pay it forward. Pay forward with your time and talents so others can make their dreams come true,” Griffin said. “Keep learning and keep dreaming … I want you to be confident in your ability to take on every opportunity that awaits you.”
Approximately 3,310 diplomas — including 190 doctorate degrees, 489 master’s degrees, 16 professional degrees and 2,612 bachelor’s and associate degrees — were expected to be awarded to the graduating class at OSU’s 408th commencement.
In addition to the diplomas awarded during the ceremony, two distinguished service awards were presented to Martha M. Garland and Robert J. Weiler.
Garland, an OSU senior administrator who has served as vice provost and dean for Undergraduate Studies, has been involved at OSU for nearly 40 years. She came to the university as a doctoral candidate in 1971 and has served as a prominent advocate for OSU students, developing student-focused initiatives such as the First Year Experience program and the Office of Undergraduate Research.
Weiler is chairman of the board of the Robert Weiler Company, a full-service commercial real estate firm, and has previously served as an adjunct faculty member at the Moritz College of Law. Weiler began serving on the university’s Foundation Board of Directors in 2012 and was awarded the Fisher Alumni Award for Community Service in 2002. He holds two degrees from OSU.
This year’s Autumn Commencement cost $125,000, OSU spokeswoman Amy Murray said in an email.