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Gene Smith encourages graduating Buckeyes to help others

More than 3,500 Buckeyes receive diplomas, certificates at autumn commencement

Speaking at the 2023 autumn commencement, said Gene Smith, “is one of the greatest honors of my life.”

Smith, senior vice president and Wolfe Foundation Athletic Director at The Ohio State University, was the featured speaker Sunday. Retiring in July 2024, Smith will leave behind a 19-year legacy at the university and a 39-year career as an athletics director.

He is also the namesake for the Eugene D. Smith Leadership Institute, which provides leadership, character and career development for all Ohio State student-athletes to best prepare them for life after graduation.

Smith encouraged graduates to stay in touch with Ohio State, promising that the university would always be a resource to them. And, once students have become successful in their careers, he urged them to return the favor.

“When you have reached your professional stride, and you are thriving in your life, think about giving back to that young student just like you, someone who could use a hand,” he said.

Jacy Sheldon, a guard on the university’s women’s basketball team who graduated Sunday, first met Smith when she was a high school student.

“Obviously, because I was from Ohio, I knew who Gene Smith was,” she said. Having him be the speaker at commencement was a special reunion.

“He’s made a huge impact at Ohio State,” she said. “He’s supported [the women’s basketball team] more than we could ask. Our team has a tight connection with him. I want to thank him for everything he’s done for us in the program.”

Acting President Peter Mohler asked graduates to remember all they overcame during the early years of the COVID-19 pandemic. The class of 2023, many of whom were in their first year as Buckeyes, had to navigate Zoom lectures, PCR tests and social distancing.

The Ohio State experience could have been changed for the worse, Mohler said. But what he remembered was how that class persevered.

“There was a real risk of losing a century and a half of tradition and community,” Mohler said. “You held on to, and in fact, reignited our unique campus traditions, our vibrant campus life and the sense of community that make Ohio State such a special place.”

During the ceremony, alumna Karen L. Hendricks, a former university trustee, and Thomas M. Rieland, former general manager of WOSU Public Media, received Distinguished Service Awards in honor of their unwavering commitment to the university.

Of the 3,515 degrees awarded Sunday, 170 were doctorates, 444 master’s and 13 professional, and 2,888 were undergraduate and associate degrees and certificates. Graduates come from more than 70 countries, including Indonesia, Peru, Kenya and Spain.  

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