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Michael V. Drake returns to Ohio State for presidential portrait unveiling

Drake oversaw record highs in graduation rates, academic excellence

Michael V. Drake, Ohio State University’s 15th president, returned to the Columbus campus with former first lady Brenda Drake to witness the unveiling of his new presidential portrait. The event was held Friday at Thompson Library, where the portrait is now displayed in the university’s presidential portrait gallery on the third floor.

Ohio State President Kristina M. Johnson welcomed Dr. and Mrs. Drake back to campus.

“We are thrilled by the opportunity to honor a world-class higher education leader who elevated Ohio State and developed a solid foundation for our continued success as the absolute model of the 21st century land-grand university,” Johnson said. “Today is a small but significant commemoration of the positive impact that the Drakes have had on Buckeye nation.”

Drake said the event brought back fond memories for him and Mrs. Drake about their time at the university, which spanned June 2014 through June 2020.

“We’re both really gratified to have been a part of this community, and it’s a community working together to improve themselves but also create opportunities for other people,” said Drake, who is now the president of the University of California. “It was a great experience, day by day.”

Dr. MIchael V. Drake's presidential portrait was created by artist James Tennison.Johnson and Ohio State Board of Trustees Chair Hiroyuki Fujita unveiled Drake’s portrait.

“The presidential portrait gallery serves as a visual display for those in pursuit of academic excellence,” Fujita said, “and Michael Drake undoubtedly fills the bill.”

The oil-on-canvas portrait was created by Whidbey Island, Washington-based artist James Tennison. His work includes commissions by the National Institutes of Health, Harvard University and the official portraits of former Texas governors Ann Richards and Rick Perry.

Before picking up his paintbrush, Tennison said he consulted by conference call with Dr. and Mrs. Drake, who selected a photo that served as the basis for the portrait. Tennison said he used the photo for reference and added artistic flourishes.

“I want to get at what you might say is a ‘speaking likeness’  ̶  I want you to feel like this is really him,” Tennison said. “This is almost life-size, so you feel like he's there with you.”

Drake said he appreciates the likeness that Tennison actualized on canvas. A physician and member of the National Academy of Medicine, Drake said he took special note of how the artist portrayed the definition in his hands  ̶  developed through years of exacting procedures in the operating room.

“That was such a big part of my training for decades,” Drake said.

Drake said he’s hopeful that students who view his portrait will be inspired that they can become whatever they choose in life.

“When I look (at portraits) on walls, I see who’s there and I notice who’s not,” said Drake, who was Ohio State’s first Black president. “I think that’s an important thing for students to see.”  

During Drake’s tenure, Ohio State set records for student success, research impact, donor support and other measures of excellence. The university has since eclipsed many of those records, reaching new highs under Johnson’s leadership.

Many of Drake’s signature initiatives focused on access, affordability and excellence  ̶̶  priorities that reflect Ohio State’s land-grant mission.

One of those initiatives was the Ohio State Buckeye Opportunity Program, which supports students from Ohio on all Ohio State campuses who qualify for a Federal Pell Grant. Each recipient receives enough student financial aid to cover the full cost of undergraduate tuition and mandatory fees.

In 2016, the Michael V. Drake Institute for Teaching and Learning was founded to promote teaching excellence and support faculty in classroom instruction.

Drake’s interests outside higher education and health sciences include art and music. An accomplished musician, he serves on the board of directors of the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland and the Broad Museum of Art in Los Angeles. He and Mrs. Drake live in the San Francisco Bay area. They have two adult sons and four grandchildren. 

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