On Sunday afternoon, Ohio State’s most recent graduates and their families and friends gathered in the Schottenstein Center to bid farewell to the university, celebrate accomplishments and hear the encouraging words of commencement speaker Rattan Lal, distinguished university professor of soil science in the College of Food, Agricultural and Environmental Sciences.
Approximately 1,661 degrees were granted this summer, with 925 graduates in attendance for the 422nd commencement ceremony.
Among the degrees distributed, 249 were of the doctorate degrees, 495 were master’s and 17 were professional, Molly Ranz Calhoun, interim senior vice president for student life, said during her opening address. Ph.D. candidates were announced individually and given their diplomas by University President Michael V. Drake.
“Commencement at the Ohio State University is not only a tangible demonstration of our institutional purpose, but also a celebration of excellence,” Calhoun said.
In celebrating that excellence, University President Michael V. Drake announced and introduced Lal as the commencement speaker, recognizing his status as an alumnus and contributions to the role of sustainability.
“[Lal] is a gifted educator and prolific scholar. He’s contributed more than 2,400 publications. I don’t know that I’ve read 2,400 publications. That’s a lot of work,” Drake said. “In addition to his vast research, Dr. Lal has contributed or collaborated with policy makers in the United States and beyond to promote best practices in soil protection and restoration in recognition of his transformation.”
Lal, director of the Carbon Management and Sequestration Center in the School of Environment and Natural Resources and one of the university’s most decorated researchers, reflected upon his past as a Buckeye and the opportunities he had because of his education.
“The Ohio State University opened for me many doors of opportunities and gave me the strength and courage to pass through those doors that made me a privileged speaker at your commencement today,” Lal said to the graduates. “So I think you also, with hard work, with sincerity, with commitment, with a dedication to excellence, can achieve the same thing.”
Lal’s career spans five decades and six continents, he said, and he most recently received the 2019 Japan Prize, an award for outstanding achievements in the field of science and technology. He acknowledged not only the achievements of the graduates, but those of their families and friends for providing support while students pursued their degrees.
“Indeed no language can express the power, egoism, depth, and [selflessness] as a parental, maternal love and care that you received that made it possible for you to get the degree from the Ohio State University,” he said. “Therefore, you must also give back to them by love — more important, respect and care — that they fully deserve.”
In encouraging the graduates to give back to Ohio State, Lal incorporated his area of research into his speech by referencing a poem by F.D. Hole, “A Rainbow of Soil.” He then expanded upon the poem, citing the role soil plays in carbon sinks and health improvement.
“It’s incumbent upon you to leave our Mother Earth better off than you found it,” he said to the graduates. “I’m proud to say that my generation made a strong commitment, but we have very high expectations for you and I’m sure that [with] your training, you can even take it to higher levels in intellectual capacity to do it.”
About 900 undergraduate degrees were granted with a variety of studies represented, ranging from biomedical engineering to journalism, Calhoun said, as well as approximately 55 countries and six continents.
“Ohio State is a global university committed to preparing our students for the global realities with which they will live and work here at the Ohio State University,” Calhoun said. “All colleges attend one commencement ceremony each term of the academic year. Graduates receive their own diploma — a practice rarely attempted by a university of this size.”
Distinguished Service awards were also given during the commencement ceremony to Gifford Weary, professor emeritus, former chair of psychology and former divisional dean for social and behavioral sciences; and posthumously to Richard A. Hollingsworth, who retired in 2009 after a 35-year Ohio State career as vice president for student life.
Lal was presented with the commencement medallion by Drake.