Commencement speakers call on graduates to improve the world

Trustee Abigail Wexner shares personal story about the empowering role of education

By: Chris Booker

Published on May 09, 2017

Philanthropist and child advocate Abigail Wexner delivered a call to action to the largest graduating class in the history of The Ohio State University.

“Ordinary people, fortified by will and good intentions, possess the power to change the course of another person’s life,” Wexner said.

Wexner was the main speaker for the 2017 spring commencement on Sunday. A member of the university’s Board of Trustees, Wexner is a lawyer and community volunteer. She often focuses her philanthropic work on children’s issues.

Wexner said when she was in fifth grade, a chance encounter with the headmaster of a private prep school changed her life. The headmaster offered her a full scholarship to the school. It was an opportunity her immigrant parents could not have afforded on their own.

“One attentive educator took note of my capabilities, put an arm around my shoulder and turned me toward opportunities I would never have had,” she said.

She became the first member of her family to graduate from college and complete law school. Wexner now creates opportunities for others by investing in education for children who lack opportunity. She is a founding board member and vice chair of the board for KIPP Columbus, a public charter school for underserved communities.

“A child denied the God-given right to achieve full potential because they are poor or sick or stuck in a failing system – that injustice stirs my soul,” Wexner said to the crowd of approximately 65,000 at Ohio Stadium.

Wexner encouraged the day’s graduates to work to make a similar impact and find their passion.

“Seize the chance to meaningfully improve the world bit by bit,” she said.

Gerard Basalla, Undergraduate Student Government president for the 2016-17 academic year, also spoke to students. Basalla is believed to be the first student to speak at commencement in university history.

He joined Wexner in a call for his peers to recognize their shared responsibility as classmates.

“When we came here, we came home. We were officially Buckeyes, tied to a higher purpose,” Basalla said.

Ohio State President Michael V. Drake asked students to make sure they were in sync with the world.

“One of the things that I think is most important as our graduates, our students, our classmates go off into the world is to remember that being in sync is extraordinarily important,” Drake said. “You want to make sure to protect the physical and mental and spiritual health you’ve been given.”

He said the task of the university was to develop not just the academic and leadership potential of the graduates, but also their whole person.

“The context of our university is that we wish to be enabling, empowering and inspiring. To be people who change the world,” he said. “My message to the graduating class today is simply: Dream big.”

The 2017 graduating class size of about 11,500 students surpasses the previous records of 11,235 set in 2016 and 11,040 set in 2015. Among the graduates were 201 veterans and 46 ROTC cadets who were commissioned as officers.

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