Friends and family started filling the Schottenstein Center at noon, waiting eagerly to watch their loved ones take the stage for their next big step in life.
The prelude wouldn’t start being played by Ohio State’s symphonic band until 1:30 p.m., and the welcome wouldn’t start till 2 p.m., but seats were at a premium on Sunday afternoon.
3,754 students made the walk they had been working years for on Sunday at Ohio State’s largest-ever Autumn Commencement, edging last year’s record of 3,721 graduates.
The class included 3,043 undergraduates receiving bachelor’s and 69 receiving associate’s, while 416 received a master’s and 221 a doctorate degree from 68 countries and five continents with students from places as diverse as Haiti and Bangladesh.
President Michael Drake opened the ceremony by thanking loved ones and staff for their hand in getting students to the point of graduation.
After the graduates had taken their seats and Drake had given his remarks, the commencement address was delivered by Ohio State alumnus and recently retired Congressman Patrick Tiberi.
“But not for Ohio State, I would not be here today,” said Tiberi, who has spent his entire life post-graduation in Central Ohio while serving nearly nine terms in the U.S. House of Representatives before retiring in January. “It feels to me as if I have been living a dream. And I have, it’s an American dream.”
Tiberi, now the president and CEO of the Ohio Business Roundtable, impressed upon graduates the opportunity their degrees offered them. He invoked memories of their ancestors who had uprooted their entire lives to come to America so future generations could have opportunities exactly like this one.
“The same opportunity I had lies ahead for everyone here. The degree you leave here with today is your ticket,” he said. “That opportunity is called the American dream, and although there are some doubters, I can tell you that its foundations and its strengths endure, and it’s available to this day to be yours if you seize the opportunity.”
Tiberi then took a moment to relay his own story, his own American dream, by telling those assembled that their story would not be like his, that every American dream is unique but that he hoped they could glean something from his experience.
“I am the son of immigrants,” Tiberi said, recalling his parents coming to America from Italy while young and broke. “My parents worked hard as I grew up just miles from here — my dad as a card-carrying steel worker and my mom as a seamstress — and we were of modest means.”
Tiberi then recounted being the first in his family to graduate highschool and his journey to Ohio State — which included working multiple jobs to pay for his education — including a shout out for “the best damn band in the land” from the former trumpet player.
Tiberi then recounted how he by “pure happenstance” accepted an internship with then-Congressman John Kasich, which led him to ultimately run for office himself. He then told the crowd how his family from Italy flew in to remark upon this accomplishment, the fulfillment of the American dream.
“Think about that. An Italian kid — son of immigrants — was now a full-fledged member of the greatest deliberative body the world has ever seen,” he said. “I do not hold myself to be any kind of bigshot — I’m a regular guy; a son to an aging father, a husband to the love of my life, a dad to four girls I adore and an obsessively competitive manager of multiple fantasy football teams in the playoffs today.”
Tiberi then came back to the beginning of his speech and reminded those graduating that they all had the same opportunity he did, the same American dream. He told those in attendance that, despite criticism, the American dream was still out there for the taking and that cynics should not lose faith in the ideal.
“Each of you now has the same opportunity that I did,” he said. “The choice is yours, and although it may seem daunting as you listen today, it will sort itself out as you tackle the challenges ahead, as you make mistakes and learn from them, and as you stay focused on creating your own American dream.”
After Tiberi spoke and all the degrees had been handed out, the graduating class sang Carmen Ohio one more time together before heading out to face the challenges and opportunities ahead.
“Before you make a decision, consult your inner compass,” Drake said to the graduates. “Then do what you know is right.”