Last week a co-worker told me that he had gone to the commencement ceremonies for That School Up North to watch his niece graduate (why he allowed his own flesh and blood to attend that place is a question I left unasked) and he told me that the CEO of Twitter had been the keynote speaker. I derisively replied "Ha! The President of the United States is speaking at Ohio State's commencement but they get the CEO of Twitter!" Then someone else remarked that the Twitter guy was probably more interesting, and, working in the IT field as I do, I had to agree.
If either of those two had spoken at my graduation from OSU, it would have been more memorable than what I got, which was some cardiologist who put me to sleep. The truth is that most of us will never remember who spoke at our graduation ceremony, except those lucky few who get someone truly famous and/or beloved, like a friend of mine who graduated from OSU in 1986 and thus was treated to a commencement address from none other than Woody Hayes.
What makes for a great commencement speaker? At a minimum, it would be someone who has achieved something significant, and who could speak to how going to college and graduating helped him/her along the way. Ideally, that person would have some connection to the university, but in the absence of that, being famous is an accepted substitute. After all, if an American university can have someone like J.K. Rowling or Bono speak at their commencement, then the usual requirements are not binding for celebrities.
It would also be good if that person had some media experience, or at least some experience speaking in public. Politicians are frequent choices for this reason, but I'd rather listen to someone who has lots of great stories to tell, and could relate those to the experience of moving from one phase of life (college) to another (the world of work).
And so, with some apologies for personal preference and a desire to be at least a little bit provocative, I present to you my list of the top 5 speakers I'd like to see at my college graduation. I do think I could stay awake for these guys.
I know that a lot of you have no interest in the sport of golf, but you have to admit that "The Golden Bear" is a perfect choice. He's got it all: fame, achievement, and a strong connection to the university. Although he did not graduate from Ohio State (he turned pro a few credit hours short of a degree) he was granted an honorary degree by the university in 1972. Heck, he was even born and raised in the Columbus area.
According to the official records, he's never been the commencement speaker. One could argue that dotting the 'I' in Script Ohio was a bigger honor, but it's a shame he's never addressed the graduates. I'm sure he has a lot of great stories from his long career in golf, both as a player and as a course designer. And I'm sure he would have some valuable advice about how to "shoot for the pin" or "escape from the rough" in the world of business ventures and personal marketing.
This is where people start to throw stuff at me. But remember, this is the list of people I'd like to see, not a list of the most logical choices. While Mark May is one of the most reviled sports journalists among OSU fans, that wasn't always the case. Many fans have forgotten that May was the "straight man" on the ESPN studio team while former Nebraska LB Trev Alberts was the clown. Playing Dean Martin to Alberts' Jerry Lewis routine served May well during the 2002-2003 seasons, a time when Ohio State football was one of the hottest topics you could cover.
After Alberts was fired in 2005, May took over as the OSU-basher on the set and has played the role with relish ever since. As for qualifications, he had a sterling college career and has been inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame. He also played on two Super Bowl champion teams with the Washington Redskins during his long NFL career. Obviously, he's media savvy. Why do I want to see him speak at OSU commencement? For one simple reason: the occasion would require him to say at least one or two good things about Ohio State. And that would be memorable.
Shatner ranks high on the list of guys I grew up watching on television. Since Patrick McGoohan and Peter Falk are both dead, he's the most prominent of the surviving group. While it is true that his stilted delivery is the butt of many a comedian, he's got loads of experience speaking in public and would have a lot of great stories to share about his many years in television and the movies.
Yes, I'm a sci-fi geek. So sue me.
As many of you might expect, this man is my personal hero in sports journalism. Other than John Feinstein, there is no sports journalist I have spent more time reading than the "Dean of OSU Historians". His connection to the university is as solid as it gets, having authored The Official Ohio State Football Encyclopedia. And as for great stories, this guy has got them in spades. He also has a ton of public speaking experience.
I saved the best for last. The 1995 Heisman Trophy winner is a graduate of and an unapologetic public booster for the university. He has had success on and off the field, and has extensive media experience. The man is comfortable in front of a camera and behind a microphone. Not only that, but he now works for the university as Assistant Vice President for Business Advancement.
Well, there's my list. Can you come up with a better one? Of course you can. All suggestions will be forwarded on to my inside sources at the faculty club.