President Shrum, Members of the Board of Regents, faculty, staff, distinguished guests, parents, and – most importantly—the Class of 2022. Thank you for your warm welcome and the invitation to be with you.
I find it hard to believe any of you would have been here to listen to my speeches in SGA Senate years ago, but I promise you these next 15 minutes will be nothing like those speeches or the political ads you were inundated with for these last two years.
As a proud member of the Oklahoma State University community, I am honored to be here to deliver the 132nd Fall Commencement address. And with this month marking the 40th anniversary of my own graduation from Oklahoma State I am personally very humbled to be a part of this wonderful occasion.
As you will soon learn, graduating from this prestigious institution will open countless doors for you throughout your life.
As an OSU alumnus, I am proud to be one of the first to congratulate you and your families on this celebratory occasion.
To reach this day, students have had the support of families, friends, faculty, and in some cases unknown strangers in our communities. I thank those who have sacrificed to make this moment possible.
As a father myself to two Oklahoma State graduates, it is a glorious day when your child graduates from college- and a really great day for your bank account.I know the Class of 2022 will join me in thanking you for your love and support.
As soon-to-be alumni of Oklahoma State University, I hope you cherish the memories you made here in Stillwater. You’ve worked hard to reach this milestone.
You will leave with lifelong friends and fond memories of Homecoming, being thrown into Theta Pond, and enjoying long nights out on the Strip with friends.
I am sure the same deep philosophical discussions are happening at George’s, Eskimo Joe’s, and Stonewall. I can not speak to the details of those discussions, but I remember them being very thoughtful.
You were fellow Cowboys with legendary wrestling coach John Smith.
You were fellow Cowboys with Lindy Waters, Cade Cunningham, and their revered leader, Coach Mike Boynton.
You had the unique experience of christening O’Brate Stadium and joining President George W. Bush for the ceremonial first pitch.
I know we’ll all remember Bedlam in 2021- although I did not join you on the field after the game.
And I know you will remember all the cramming you did at Edmon Low.
To those of you graduating with high honors, academic awards, and distinctions, I say to you, “well done.” And for those of you who might have received a “C” or two: rest assured you, too, can be a Member of Congress one day.
All jokes aside, I know we all appreciate that wonderful quality about Oklahoma State, that whether you come from the most rural area, the inner city or anyplace in-between, OSU remains true to the modern land-grant mission by preparing students for unimaginable success.
While your studies and extracurriculars will leave a lasting impression and provide you with countless stories to share throughout your life, one thing you should always be proud of is where you’ve come from and the lessons you have learned along the way as you aspire to achieve great things.
I say that because I have been in many of your shoes.
You see, I am the product of rural western Oklahoma. My parents were children of the Great Depression and Dust Bowl. Across the semi-arid, windy, and often draught-stricken landscape that my family has called home for over five generations, it was the prairie that allowed the expansive landscape to weather all types of drought cycles. Its tangled roots held the topsoil in place, preventing it from blowing away, and turning our expansive blue skies brown and black.
But what many of our grandparents- or in your case great grandparents- did not know was the long-term effects of tilling that so called “last frontier in agriculture.”
Sod busting lead to impressive harvests but when the rain stopped, the once productive land became hardpan fields and dust clouds and transformed the landscape for generations.
The decade-long drought unmistakably shaped the lives of many across Oklahoma- including, my late parents.
Shaped by the adversity of both the Great Depression and the Dust Bowl, my parents were quick to learn the value of a day’s work.
Hard work came before sunrise and long after sunset as they helped tend to the homestead.
Their purpose came from the act of caring for the land and raising what they could with what they had to provide for their families, neighbors, and embracing the responsibilities of what came with calling the breadbasket of America home.
That sense of community, helped create a feeling of certainty and belonging during uncertain times. This was bolstered by the knowledge that a family member or neighbor would do anything in their power to help you or your family day or night.
These are values that were instilled in me as a young boy in Durham, Crawford, and Roll communities.
And they are the foundations upon which of our beloved university was founded.
Oklahoma State University was born out of the vision that public land be given to states to provide for the higher education and betterment of its people. The Morrill Act, passed by Congress on July 2, 1862, and signed by President Abraham Lincoln, established the land-grant university system.
This revolutionary piece of policy guaranteed that no longer would receiving a higher education be reserved for the privileged few. Land-grant institutions lifted an entire new class of citizens and put them on a path toward the American Dream.
These uniquely American institutions equipped students with the tools and knowledge necessary to solve some of society’s most challenging issues- both then and now.
The three pillars of a land-grant university: instruction, research, and Extension have allowed generations to serve the public, with Oklahoma State University’s pioneering spirit having long helped pave the way for new discoveries.
Throughout its history, Oklahoma State has solved problems. We’ve responded to the needs of our state’s farmers during the Dust Bowl with innovative soil conservation techniques and has continued serving farmers and ranchers well with its world-class wheat genetics program.
Through the leadership of President Shrum, we are working to solve the problem of rural health care.
And through the leadership of many in the engineering school and with the launch of OSU’s new Oklahoma Aerospace Institute for Research and Education, we are equipping the next generation of manned and unmanned aerospace professionals, leveraging their innovation to support America’s national security drone strategy.
Oklahoma State’s deep commitment to our original land-grant mission and working to apply it to today’s problems will ensure Oklahoma’s brightest orange continues to be a steward of learning and opportunity.
I would be remiss if I did not thank the long line of university leaders, professors, and mentors who laid the foundation for students like you and I.
Leaders like Oliver Willham who established the OSU Foundation, which has gone on to elevate the impact of OSU through advanced educational opportunities; Leaders like Burns Hargis who ushered in new investments and helped provide transformative resources not just for Oklahoma State but for the entire state of Oklahoma; Leaders like Dr. Daryll Ray who was a personal mentor of mine as my ag econ policy professor, and who represents all the professors and mentors we’ve shared during our time here on campus.
Because of mentors and leaders like President Willham, President Burns Hargis, and Dr. Ray, a young man from Roger Mills County, Oklahoma, who graduated high school with a class of 40, was able to grow up to be a Member of Congress.
Remember, the size of your hometown does not have to determine the size of your dreams.
Ultimately, you are all the reason why Oklahoma State will be the preeminent land-grant institution. Your innovation, your discoveries, your wealth of knowledge and generosity to give back to OSU will help make our university a better place for generations to come.
You are all examples that OSU is and will for generations to come be THE preeminent land-grant university.
Now that you are a graduate of Oklahoma State, you are a part of the engine that will continue to drive investment in the university.
I believe, now more than ever, Oklahoma and our nation need graduates of land-grant universities. You are the ones who will go on to educate students, serve our communities, solve problems, and improve our understanding of the world around us.
Going forward, I challenge you to always remember what it means to be a Cowboy.
Remember to challenge yourself, intellectually and never stop learning.
Be a good steward of your community and always be of service to your neighbors.
Be a good steward of resources as we work together to enhance the quality of life, economic prospects, and outcomes for our fellow Oklahomans- and the rest of the globe.
I want to thank you for letting me share this special day with you. I hope that there will come a time for you to return to OSU, as I did today, to reflect on how the mission of Oklahoma State University helped define you and the aspirations of your youth.
Congratulations again to the Class of 2022 for becoming a graduate of the Oklahoma State University. May God bless you- and Go Pokes!
For more news about OSU celebrating the 145th commencement, click here.