Please let the joke kill. Please let the joke kill.
I was just one in a sea of proud graduates. However, I was alone in knowing exactly what Archie would say.
Sitting among the 8,300 graduates baking in the warm sun in Ohio Stadium as Archie Griffin launched into his commencement address, I had those five words running through my head.
In my black cap and gown, I was just one in a sea of proud graduates. However, I was alone in knowing exactly what Archie would say—because he and I had worked together to write the commencement address.
That’s why I was waiting for the joke we had written—if he got a big laugh, than it might relax him a little bit. Well, it would relax me anyway. He seemed fine.
I had worked with Archie helping him craft remarks for more than a year in my job in executive communications, but this speech was different. With Archie leaving his job as head of The Ohio State University Alumni Association, this was his swan song. It was a very big deal to him.
I had helped to shape the speech, but it was Archie’s story through and through. It was built around a little-known aspect of his celebrated Ohio State football career—that he had fumbled the very first time he had carried the ball in a game. It used that initial failure, and his subsequent triumph the next week when he set an Ohio State rushing record, to make the point that your failures in life do not define you. What defines you is how you respond to those failures. It also touched on other elements embedded in Archie’s DNA: the importance of education to his family, honoring your values and paying forward in life to others. We had tweaked it, and polished it until every word rang true for him.
Sure enough, Archie got the big laugh early, and as he got into the major themes of the speech I noticed heads nodding in appreciation of what he was saying. It became clear that the 50,000-plus gathered in Ohio Stadium were really listening to him. The commencement address that I had helped write was going to be a success, and I relaxed and started to savor the singular moment. Then it was over.
From the procession into Ohio Stadium to the singing of Carmen Ohio with my fellow graduates to walking onto the field and getting my actual graduate degree from the John Glenn College of Public Affairs, the entire graduation experience was so special for me. Made doubly so because my parents, wife and daughter had been there to see it.
It was a great day to become an Ohio State graduate.