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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.

54 comments

  1. My son was really hoping President Donald Trump or Vice President Mike Pence would speak, but hopefully Mrs. Wexner will do well.

  2. “I deserve Obama or his wife” ….. “This lady isn’t famous enough so I don’t like it”

    Entitlement at it’s best. Wow.

    Be thankful you graduated from a top University and enjoy the ceremony. Listen to the women and give her a chance to speak.

  3. What a joke. While Ms. Wexner does some amazing charity work, everything she has accomplished is the result of marrying a very wealthy man. This is an insult to half the student body and sends a poor message.

  4. It’s payback. OSU elite leaders choosing an elite lady. We are only students we don’t deserve a choice.

    What happen to students first!

  5. Disappointed in ignorant comments

    I’m curious how many of these people with negative comments have bothered to read Ms. Wexner’s bio before deciding she is not “famous enough” to be worthy of the OSU commencement speech? Frankly, I find it sad and embarrassing that students ready to graduate with a bachelors degree from The Ohio State University have such narrow minded and uneducated opinions as to believe Ms. Wexner’s accomplishments are only due to her “marrying a very wealthy man”.

    Ms. Wexner holds a law degree and serves as a member of multiple boards of business and philanthropic organizations, including her past role as chair of board of directors at Nationwide Children’s Hospital. Do you believe those are easy positions in which to be successful? Do you really think a person in that position does need an intellectual talent to balance the needs of multi million dollar companies, their mission, their employees, a vision for the future? You think her marriage certificate is her only qualification?

    Ms. Wexmer is also a mother of 4 and has raised literally millions of dollars for the betterment of Central Ohio and beyond, probably including scholarship dollars many OSU students enjoy to help pay for college. I imagine there are volumes of information Ms. Wexner could share with any graduate of Ohio State that would benefit them in their pursuit of a career after college. I’m pretty sure her message will not be marry a millionaire!

    • No one is disputing that she is a very intelligent and hard working individual, but there is no doubt that without being married to a billionaire she would not be on those boards. It’s easy to do philanthropic work with all those funds available. The OSU leadership could have really worked a little harder to find a speaker, instead of inviting the wife of their biggest donor.

  6. I wanted Donald Trump or our new First Lady

    • I bet either would have been a rhetorical masterclass!
      Also, it would have required Trump to not spend a weekend at Mar-A-Lago.

  7. I am graduating this Spring, and think Abigail is a great choice. I realized Les donates a considerable amount of money to Ohio State, but he has single handily changed Columbus for the better, more than any other single person ever has. The Wexners constantly re-invest in Columbus and OSU, they have enhanced the reputation and aesthetic of the city a great deal in a short time. Although others are “more famous”, few have done as much for this city as they have. Perhaps she is a “convenience” pick, and people feel they need a president or former president to send them off, but the spirit of the Wexners impresses me more than the Obama’s or the Trump’s likely ever will.

  8. My son was really hoping President Donald Trump or Vice President Mike Pence would speak, but hopefully Mrs. Wexner will do well.

  9. OSU elite leaders choosing an elite lady. We are only students we don’t deserve a choice.

    What happen to students first!

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