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Graduates encouraged to ‘pay forward’ at Ohio State’s commencement

3,564 degrees and certificates awarded at autumn 2022 ceremony

At The Ohio State University’s 2022 autumn commencement at the Jerome Schottenstein Center, President Kristina M. Johnson lauded keynote speaker Katie Smith, former Buckeyes women’s basketball player, three-time Olympian and WNBA coach, as one of the greatest athletes that the university has ever educated.

Johnson noted that Smith was the first woman student-athlete at Ohio State to have her number, 30, retired.

“Despite the intense focus and love of the game required to achieve so much in any sport, Coach Smith is consistently brave, appreciative and generous on a larger stage,” Johnson said. “She demonstrated the value she places on education by completing her Ohio State undergraduate degree and starting work towards an Ohio State master’s degree in medical dietetics while still playing in the WNBA.”

Smith is now an associate head coach with the Minnesota Lynx and volunteers as a mentor to young athletes, Johnson said. 

“She is paying forward by working to spark that fire in the next generation of women and girls,” Johnson said. “She is volunteering with the Upper Arlington High School girls’ basketball team, whose players are thrilled at the inspiration she provides.”

Smith said the path to earning her bachelor’s and master’s degrees from Ohio State was a circuitous one. After her stint as a forward on the Buckeyes women’s basketball team from 1993 to 1996, during which she broke the Big Ten’s scoring record, she put her education on hold to pursue a career as a professional basketball player with the WNBA. The Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame and Women’s Basketball Hall of Fame inductee eventually returned to Ohio State and completed her bachelor’s degree in 2008 and her master’s degree in 2014.

“There is always a path back to this great place,” Smith said, “with people who stand ready to meet you where you are and get you finished.”

Smith said she has gained personal and professional fulfillment from maintaining lifelong connections with Ohio State and her fellow alumni. She encouraged the graduates to do the same.

“This university is an exceptional place of learning and discovery,” she said. “You should always keep coming back. I did.”

Smith was awarded the honorary degree of Doctor of Public Service during the ceremony. Paul A. Beck received the Distinguished Scholar Award for his research on democracies and political discourse. Kara J. Trott, founder of Quantum Health, received the Distinguished Service Award for her years of academic service to the university.

Of the 3,564 degrees that were awarded Sunday, 171 were doctorates, 479 master’s, 12 professional, 2,443 bachelor’s and 39 certificates.

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