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Students lukewarm on commencement-speaker pick

Abigail Wexner is set to speak at Spring Commencement 2017. Credit: Courtesy of Ohio State

On Wednesday morning, Ohio State announced that Abigail Wexner will deliver the Spring Commencement address to 11,500 graduates — and the student reaction to the speaker selection has been mixed.

Wexner — a lawyer, philanthropist and OSU Board of Trustees member — is also the wife of Les Wexner, whom the Wexner Medical Center is named after.

When students were asked about the choice, some were unsure of who Abigail Wexner was and the reasoning behind her being chosen.

“I honestly didn’t know she was going to be the commencement speaker,” said Kristin Dotson, a fourth-year in social work. “It’s a big day for us, and (my friends and I) thought someone like (former First Lady) Michelle Obama would have been a good choice.”

Former President Barack Obama spoke at Spring Commencement in 2013. Representatives from OSU did not return requests for comment on Wexner’s selection.

Abigail Wexner is a current member of the OSU Board of Trustees, while Les Wexner is a former member. Abigail Wexner was appointed to a nine-year term in 2014, and some students said the choice to have her as a speaker seemed like it was one of convenience.

“I don’t know much about Abigail Wexner. She seems like a nice lady, but I think the last commencement speaker I ever witnessed was in 2013, and that was Barack Obama — so he set the standards pretty high,” said Sayan Manna, a fourth-year in biology. “I just feel that Mrs. Wexner was a very convenient pick, and I would have preferred it be someone not related to OSU.”

Previous speakers in recent years have been connected to OSU, including music professor Timothy Gerber, who spoke at Fall Commencement 2016, and former Buckeye football player Archie Griffin, who spoke at Spring Commencement 2015, the same commencement where his son graduated. Jeni Britton Bauer, founder of Jeni’s Splendid Ice Creams brand and the speaker for Summer Commencement 2016, previously attended OSU.

Recent non OSU-affiliated speakers include Frank Schankwitz, of the Columbus Foundation, Anthony Fauci, of the National Institutes of Health, and MSNBC host and political pundit Chris Matthews.

The monetary influence the Wexner family holds with OSU was concerning to several students as well.

“I just wish it was someone with more influence outside of the university,” said Alyssa Jones, a fifth-year in environmental science. “I really wish it wasn’t the wife of someone who donates a lot of money to the school.”

The ceremony will take place on May 7 in Ohio Stadium. OSU is set to award Wexner an honorary doctorate of public service.

Correction 4/14: A previous version of this story inaccurately identified Les Wexner as a member of the OSU Board of Trustees. In fact, he is a former member. The previous version also inaccurately stated that the Wexner Center for the Arts is named after Les Wexner. In fact, it is named after his father.

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