Thursday 9 May 2024

Ohio State Graduates Suffer Through ‘The Worst Commencement Address in the History of Commencement Addresses’

 Having been a university professor, I’ve been to a lot of commencement ceremonies.

With our campus in a poor, semi-rural area, it was especially moving to see students who were not only the first in their family to get a college degree, but the first to have even graduated from high school.

Sometimes it was boring, but it never got old. It was routine for me, but for some graduates and their families, it was an event of a lifetime.

Which makes what happened with the speaker at The Ohio State University’s recent spring commencement especially grievous.

You see, Chris Pan thought it was all about only him. Perhaps he hoped to promote himself as a professional speaker or guru.

Worse, Pan wrote his speech while high on the psychedelic drug ayahuasca, according to The Columbus Dispatch. He reportedly said he also sought help from ChatGPT and other artificial intelligence.

It showed.

Beginning the university’s commencement address, Pan — an OSU graduate and Harvard MBA who worked for PepsiCo and Facebook before launching a jewelry business — noted the usual things about hard work, late-night studying, achievement and such.

He led students in applauding the support of their families in their accomplishments.

I’ve heard all this before — many times. It’s standard commencement fare, but meaningful for those graduating and their loved ones.

But then the crowd at Ohio State — and the rest of us via X — heard things that were novel.

No, not novel. Bizarre. And completely inappropriate.

Pan called on the crowd to stand and join with him in a song, complete with prepared lyrics projected on a screen.

And hand motions. Lots of hand motions. And breathing exercises — got to have breathing exercises at graduation.

Having, he said, properly gotten everyone in the right state of mind, Pan then gave the old parable about blind men perceiving different aspects of an elephant (trunk as a snake, side as a wall, tail as rope).

No problem with that to make a point.

Then Pan said (and imagine the uproar if he did this in a Christian context) “My goal today is to share new perspectives that will lead you to financial, emotional and spiritual freedom.”

He then talked about money and government policies. In promoting Bitcoin, he called on university President Walter Carter to be his assistant, and did a magic trick, changing quarters into Bitcoin.


Pan explained his self-therapy on emotional health through singing, and talked of spiritual aspects of making one’s soul grow.

As music began to play, he led the crowd in a meditation session/TED talk about a person they might admire and how one can change one’s life.

He then told the crowd he would make a free bracelet from his company available to each of them “as an apology for listening to me talk about Bitcoin,”) the Dispatch reported.

Pan finally moved to what might be considered a traditional commencement speech, with admonitions on learning forgiveness, compassion, resilience and tolerance.

He hearkened back to the elephant parable to talk about how tolerance allows people to hold multiple perspectives, especially in gatherings among those of different cultures, and how inner peace results in world peace.

Usual commencement topics.

But then, back to the music (Pan drank from a coffee cup with the price tag still on it), more on breathing, and an encouragement to learn from others with different perspectives.

Overall, Pan provided some appropriate statements about perspective and harmony.

Despite Pan’s talents and creativity, there are some ways of presenting material that don’t fit at something like commencement. Especially if they come from being high and from using artificial intelligence.

Earlier versions of his speech posted online talked of the current conflict in the Middle East and called for him to remove his shirt. Thankfully, he did neither.

And perhaps Pan’s motive for his little production was contained in his statement that he would be willing to be your teaching assistant for life.

Followed, of course, by a slide of his contact information and website.

Meaning, it seems like Pan’s little show was really about him.

And of it, Kevin McMahon of Townhall posted on X: “The worst commencement address in the history of commencement addresses.”

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