Ohio State graduated its largest class ever inside Ohio Stadium on Sunday at the university’s 418th commencement. The ceremony was presided over by University President Michael Drake, who spoke alongside Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation CEO Susan Desmond-Hellmann and graduates Elizabeth Beattey and Shweta Ambwani.
In total, 11,907 students from 92 countries and six continents graduated: 261 receiving doctorate degrees, 1,918 receiving master’s degrees and 8,923 receiving bachelor’s and associate degrees.
Desmond-Hellmann, who was awarded an honorary doctorate degree in science by Ohio State, began by asking graduates to close their eyes and imagine where they would be in 20 years. She said 20 years ago she could never imagine being where she was Sunday, but it all began by thinking more about others than herself.
“Graduates, as you think about what comes next,” she said, “Move your thoughts from thinking about ‘me’ to thinking about ‘us.’”
Desmond-Hellmann recounted the years after her own graduation, recalling how she spent too much time trying to prove herself. Upon going to California Berkeley for her medical residency, she constantly tried to compare herself to those who graduated from the likes of Stanford, feeling her undergraduate degree from the University of Nevada, Reno somehow made her inferior.
“As a result I was constantly striving to demonstrate my worth,” Desmond-Hellmann said. “Trying to show I could keep up.”
She asked graduates not to repeat her mistake and shared her experience moving past those thoughts, allowing her to focus more on humanity than herself.
She said that moment came for her when her medical work took her to Uganda where she oversaw the treatment of adults with cancer. She was chosen due to her frontline experience fighting the HIV/AIDS epidemic in San Francisco.
“Being smart doesn’t matter unless you use your intelligence for a greater purpose,” Desmond-Hellmann said. “I started thinking about how to serve humanity, how to make a contribution to humanity.”
Desmond-Hellmann left graduates with two big lessons: question yourself and question what other people tell you.
“Through your resilience, your persistence, your brilliance: you have earned the right to seize the next exciting opportunity,” she said. “When you move your thoughts form thinking about ‘me’ to thinking about ‘us’ you will each be embarking on a path to leading a meaningful life.”
As for Drake, he told the crowd that one of the best parts of his job was getting to meet graduates out in the world.
“One of the most gratifying aspects of my role at our university is meeting our Buckeye graduates and learning about the work they’re doing in their community,” he said.
His message, specifically addressed to graduates, was to dream big and make an impact on the world.
“We trust you will exemplify the model of our university, which is education for citizenship,” Drake said.
Drake reminded the graduates to trust their “inner compass,” reminding them it was what got them to where they were that day.
“Good decisions lead to good places,” he said. “The path ahead of you may not be fully illuminated, but it will be made ever more bright by the light of your education.”
One student who took a different path to the stage was Beattey, who graduated with a bachelor of science in health and rehabilitation services, after spending two years at Ohio State’s regional campus in Newark.
She said that coming from the small town, Nashport, Ohio, she wasn’t sure she could make it to Ohio State. She said she did not even know about regional campuses until her high school advisor told her about them.
“It was so inspiring to see I could be part of a real campus, even if it was small,” she said.
Beattey, who also took part in 10 different student organizations on campus, including student government at the Newark campus, said it was important for her to stay connected to the Newark campus.
“I can’t forget about the place where everything began,” she said.
She was followed by Ambwani, who graduated with a bachelor’s degree in data analytics. Ambwani weaved the words of Carmen Ohio throughout her speech as she delivered an uplifting message to fellow graduates.
“Whatever your next step in life is, be grateful for your college education that you worked so hard for,” she said. “Ohio State has given us the joy that death alone can still.”
In reminding graduates to take care of themselves moving forward, Ambwani told them that this day was about them.
“This day is for each and everyone of you,” she said. “You are an undisputed champion.”