Five Commencement Speakers I'd Like to See

By Joe Beale on May 16, 2013 at 11:30a

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.

O-H-I-O!One of the greatest ever to wear the block O.

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.

"I'm thinking of phaser blasts and green women."You know you want to hear me speak.


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. 


Comments Show All Comments

dsbgobux's picture

I wish I could tell you who the commencement speaker was at my graduation from Ohio State, but the ceremony never got that far! There was a light rain that became a downpour, and we all started body surfing on the stadium floor! Once the sound system shorted out they sent us over to the French field house to get our degrees. It took forever, but once the beers started  flowing in from 7/11 across the street everything improved! SP 1997 commencement was definitely one for the ages!

Buckeye in PA purgatory

CowCat's picture

John Glenn
Troy Smith (after he gets his graduate degree too)
... and last, but not least ...
Fritz the Night Owl

"We get paid to score touchdowns, not kick field goals"
-- Urban Meyer

zachofaltrades's picture

My mother and I both had John Glenn in 1984 and 2009.  Special stuff, too bad I was crazily hung over and don't really remember what he said.

Catch 5's picture

George Bluth Sr.
"Don't teach lessons."

Make their asses quit! - Nick Saban

Buckeye06's picture

I got McCain in 2006 so I'll always remember it, although it wasn't that great

Denny's picture

I don't remember much from his speech (I graduated then as well) aside from the fact that he looked to be in bad shape (clammy, pale, etc) and that he was just handing out platitudes, which was a pretty clear indication that he was readying the presidential run more than anything else.


9Route's picture

hahaha I'm sure the '13 class got more than their fair share of platitudes w/ the recent speaker

I'm just happy to be here

Denny's picture

Yes, platitudes. I was really, really excited to hear what McCain had to say--at that point in my life, it wouldn't have taken much for him to wow me--and there was nothing remarkable or even memorable at all about his speech. I was actually let down (which is unfair for me to do, given that I imposed a set of expectations on a graduation keynote).
Also, no/nope to any comparisons with '13 or any other politician let's not go down that rabbit hole.


9Route's picture


I'm just happy to be here

bucknasty13's picture

I remember it being somewhat political because everyone thought he would be one to run for president.  I also remember a little bit about his story of being a POW, which was kind of cool.

Denny's picture

David Foster Wallace. I re-read 'This Is Water' about once every six months.


TheBadOwl's picture

Didn't he die a few years back? 

When I walked in this morning and saw the flag was at half mast I thought, "Alright, another bureaucrat ate it." but then I saw it was Li'l Sebastian. Half mast is too high. Show some damn respect.

Denny's picture

Correct. Still, a zombified DFW would be much more entertaining/enlightening than most graduation speakers.


hodge's picture

Zombie Chris Hitchens would be pretty awesome, as well.

SilverBulletNYC's picture

^ This. Totally this.

The South will NOT rise again!

tennbuckeye19's picture

I always kinda felt Christopher Hitchens was zombie-like even while he was living. 

DonkeyPunchAnnArbor's picture

Totally agree!!!

"Michigan and "huge mistake" are synonymous"
-Mark Titus

Bolt's picture

You got DFW? My jealousy is through the roof. One of my absolute favorite people ever.

Basso Profondo's picture

She probably would have plenty of interesting stories to tell as well... Plus Elisha Shaw would certainly pay very close attention

TheBadOwl's picture

William Shatner gets my vote. Drew Carey would be cool, too, since he's a Buckeye fan IIRC. Ultimately, my dream is Jon Stewart, but I'm not sure that would happen.

When I walked in this morning and saw the flag was at half mast I thought, "Alright, another bureaucrat ate it." but then I saw it was Li'l Sebastian. Half mast is too high. Show some damn respect.

Jelligrim's picture

Bear Grylls
Jeff Bridges
Condoleezza Rice
Daniel Pink (Author)
Sulley Sullenberger

Michael Citro's picture

The company I work for had Condi Rice as a speaker at our annual conference this year. She was pretty great.

hodge's picture

John Stewart.  I don't think anyone in the world can articulate the complex issues of the world in such an accessible and satirical style, not to mention the fact that he's someone whom everyone in the audience would instantly recognize.
Also Neil Degrasse Tyson.
I'd also really enjoy a Rachel Maddow/Glenn Beck tag teamed commencement.

William's picture

Rachel Maddow/Glenn Beck tag team, good God haha. 
Serious list: 
Angela Merkel
Ron Paul
Jon Stewart
Stephen Colbert
Bear Grylls
Urban Meyer
Vladimir Putin (this would be entertaining as Hell)

buckeyepastor's picture

My list - 
Jack Park (brilliant historian and story-teller, and I think his deep reverence for the University would equate to a very receptive audience)
Chris Spielman - even though he amazingly almost went to Michigan before he knew better, no other player in my lifetime epitomizes work ethic, humility, gratitude, and living with class and faith on and off the field like Spielman.   
Jerry Springer - Former mayor of Cincinnati.   He spent a good part of his life in Ohio and though notorious for his show is a pretty sharp guy with, obviously, a lot of great stories and life experiences to offer.   
Condi Rice - I've heard her speak on a few occasions and she is an exceptional and gracious communicator.    I don't agree with her politics but have a lot of respect for her.   
PJ O'Rourke - Native of Toledo, Ohio, brilliant political satirist and writer.   I don't agree with his politics on many things, but I find him extremely entertaining.   He's a regular on NPR's "Wait, Wait, Don't Tell Me."   

"Woody would have wanted it that way" 

labuck's picture

I was at the game where Jack dotted the "I".  Pretty special stuff.  Stadium went crazy and I had goose bumps the whole time it was happening. 

TheBadOwl's picture

Wait, no, there's one answer here.
Bill f*cking Clinton.

When I walked in this morning and saw the flag was at half mast I thought, "Alright, another bureaucrat ate it." but then I saw it was Li'l Sebastian. Half mast is too high. Show some damn respect.

ATXbucknut's picture

The former head commander.  Good choice. 

Hovenaut's picture

Your choice of speaker, his moniker and gif is stellar.

SilverBulletNYC's picture

Well played, sir!

The South will NOT rise again!

Michael Citro's picture

We had John Jakes, an OSU graduate and writer who is probably most famous for his North and South trilogy. It was...meh.

My Dream Five (in no particular order):

Stephen Colbert

Chris Spielman

George R.R. Martin

Joss Whedon

Sir Alex Ferguson

IBleedSandG's picture

In no particular order... just a few people I'd like to sit and listen too.
- Al Pacino (if you've seen Scent of a Woman or Any Given Sunday, you'll know why he is on my list)
- Philip Seymour Hoffman (tremendous actor who has play a ton of different roles in his time)
- The RZA (he'd drop some serious knowledge)
- Jack Nicklaus (I definitely co-sign with this suggestion)
- Barry Larkin (I know, I know, he's a scUM grad, but he played his whole career in the great state of Ohio)
- Dave Chappelle (He's funny, he'll give it to you straight, he's the man)


teddyballgame's picture

I'd like to see Tress up there one day.

SilverBulletNYC's picture

People who are alive:
1. Richard Dawkins
2. Marilyn Manson (this would be interesting. Originally from Canton, OH)
3. Naomi Klein
4. Louis CK
5. Quinton Tarantino 
EDIT: Made a change

The South will NOT rise again!

Maestro's picture

Pee Wee Herman

vacuuming sucks

216ToThe614's picture

Jeff Bridges in dress and character as "The Dude"

Pick up your feet, turn your corners square! And DRIVE DRIVE DRIVE!!!

d1145fresh's picture

My undergrad commencement speaker at OU was by far the worst speaker I have ever heard. I'm talking ever...not just at a graduation. Ugh. Anyways my top-5 would be this: 
Conan (If you have ever seen his speech 2012 Dartmouth College speech it was amazing. I would recommend it to anyone.) 
Jon Stewart
Salman Khan (Probably one of the most forward thinking individuals around today)
JK Rowling (I've never read the Harry Potter series but I have seen a lot of interviews with her and she seems like a pretty fascinating individuals.
Tina Fey (I have always loved her and think she is both smart enough and funny enough to make for a great speaker) 

Abe Froman's picture

I think I had Maya Angelou or someone at OU in 1992.  Not a fan, as an engineer I don't dig on arts that much, but I understand that others did.  Stephen King, Hawking, Lou Holtz, Spielman, any veteran of any war.

Basking in the wake of mediocrity.....

OSUNeedles's picture

Had The Cosby in 2001 - Pretty good speaker, and one that I will always remember...
Eddie would be great (also in the class of 2001, by the way)
John Green (Author)
Bob Knight 

Jelligrim's picture

The sweet thing about 2001 is we had Cosby, Scoonie, Special K and Eddie.  I took an independent study so I could walk in spring.

OSUNeedles's picture

I will probably wind up posting this way to many times in my life, but I had my hand on Eddie's diploma, and almost took his instead of my own when I was walking through the commencement line, but chickened out at the last second... I'm still angry that I didn't take it!!!

Joe Beale's picture

I would appreciate everyone staying away from the political stuff. Otherwise, the comments have been excellent. Thanks for all the great suggestions.

okiebuck's picture

Rule# 1 for commencements should be NO politicians! All they do is talk and most have zero real world accomplishments!
Lou Holtz; one of the best speakers I've ever heard and his message was to Dream Big!

"Fate has cards that it don't want to show"

lamplighter's picture

Kate Upton
If not her, PJ O'Rourke would be hilarious
Richard Branson might be interesting

EvanstonBuckeye's picture

Willie Nelson
Anthony Bourdain
Iggy Pop

harleymanjax's picture

I am placing you under an 11W Citizen's Arrest for your kind words about Mark May!
That kind of language will not be tolerated around here! I believe it is against the 11W commenting policy!

"Because I couldn't go for 3"

Buckeyeneer's picture

No love for Bill Cosby? Having seen him live in the past few years, he still has it. One of them best story tellers ever. I imagine he would do a great job as a commencement speaker.

"Because the rules won't let you go for three." - Woody Hayes

THE Ohio State University

Joe Beale's picture

I actually do love Bill Cosby, but I was trying to avoid mentioning anyone who has already done it. ;)

The 614's picture

George Carlin
Abraham Lincoln 
Kurt Vonnegut 
Mark Twain
Woody Hayes
Queen Noor
Salman Rushdie
David Brooks
Tenzin Gyatso
Laurence Tureaud

"Anyone can run the option.  I can run the option."

-Urban Meyer-

Knarcisi's picture

+1 for the fact that I don't know who over half of the "alive" list is ...

CowCat's picture

Duh, me no thinkee ...


"So, you graduated. In life, as in football .. SOFT GUYS DON'T PLAY! 4-6 SECONDS! PUCKER UP SUNSHINE!"

"We get paid to score touchdowns, not kick field goals"
-- Urban Meyer

Goalscorer9's picture

I second the Neil Degrasse Tyson selection.  He would be a perfect person to talk to a group of young people about to go into the world with a college degree in their hand.  If you haven't ever heard of him, please check him out on youtube and again

Young_Turk's picture

Eli Wallach - aka Tuco aka "The Ugly" from The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly.  
Kevin Costner
Chris Spielman was an excellent suggestion.
Earle Bruce.  
Strong Veto to the Mark May idea.  Always best to just ignore those who seek attention by denigrating you.


Bolt's picture

I thought John Glenn did a solid job at mine. I was happy with it. Nice, quick and to the point.

UCBuckeye's picture

That's my dad you are referring to!