Michelle Obama pays tribute to dads and grads

While family and friends waited in the stands, Oregon State University’s graduating class of 2012 arrived near Reser Stadium midday Sunday, where they passed through metal detectors and stood inside the Merrit Truax Indoor Practice Facility for hours until finally being seated in Reser in the later afternoon.

The additional security and precautions were necessary this year because of this year’s commencement speaker, first lady Michelle Obama.

But the hassle and waiting — lots of waiting — was not without reward. All 3,473 of graduates participating in the ceremony left with a diploma.

Not all of those students completed their studies in the traditional manner. Kila Messick of Scappoose earned her bachelor’s degree in human development and family sciences online, a flexible program that she began after her daughter, Kendylle, 1, was born. Messick was one of 402 who completed their OSU coursework through distance education, a record for OSU.

In fact, Sunday was the first time Messick had set foot on campus.

She and her mom, Kristin Morgan, briefly toured campus Saturday and snapped photographs in front of Reser Stadium before splitting up before the ceremony.

“Hi, bye — that’s it, basically!” she said, describing her short time in Corvallis.

Naturally, many graduates — and visitors — felt the ceremony to be even more special due to the presence of the first lady.

The university distributed about 1,000 additional tickets in the weeks prior to the ceremony, allowing for the general public to attend. Organizers did not have an exact tally Sunday evening, but estimated that around 33,000 guests attended the ceremony.

Two OSU alumnae — Nadia Bengali, class of 2007, and Tina Hong-Sandmel, class of 2006 — snapped up tickets for themselves, knowing they wouldn’t have such an opportunity again. Hong-Sandmel, who lives in Japan, and Bengali, who lives in France, are both in town for Hong-Sandmel’s wedding, scheduled for Saturday.

“We’re here for Michelle!” Bengali exclaimed, as they waited for the ceremony to begin.

Hong-Sandmel added that one of her cousins was graduating with a master of business administration degree.

College of Public Health and Human Sciences graduates Sarah Paeth, Emily Ruck and Kelly Shibley were happy to see how their studies aligned with Michelle Obama’s efforts to fight childhood obesity, namely through her Move It! campaign. In fact, Michelle Obama was also awarded an honorary doctorate from OSU in public health.

“It’s kind of close to our hearts,” Paeth said.

In honor of Father’s Day, which also fell on Sunday, Shibley decorated her cap with photographs of her and her father, who passed away a few months ago. She included a message along with the photographs: “Thanks dad.”

“It’s for him,” Shibley said.

Stories of her own father, Fraser Robinson, resonated in Michelle Obama’s 23-minute address.

She spoke of his personal sacrifices for their family, and how he worked hard to convince her and her brother, Craig — coach of OSU’s men’s basketball team — that, despite being working class, they were quite rich in love.

“I wish for you a life rich in all the things that matter,” she told the audience.

Along with the talk by the first lady, the ceremony included other firsts, such as a military flyover by two Navy jets after 53 Reserve Officers Training Corps cadets and midshipmen were commissioned as officers by Lt. Col. Paul Ashcraft during the ceremony.

The flyover — and the overall event, complete with its Secret Service presence and strict schedule — went off without a hitch, said Kavinda Arthenayake, director of OSU Conference Services and the chief organizer of the ceremony.

“I think it was a grand success,” he said.

The Corvallis Police Department said that traffic woes weren’t as bad as expected and reported no arrests connected to the ceremony as of about 9 p.m.

OSU President Edward Ray offered the final word to the graduates: “Please know that OSU will always be your home, and we encourage you to come home often.”

By The Numbers

Here are some statistics about Sunday’s graduation ceremony at Oregon State University:

4,979: The number of OSU students earning degrees, the largest graduating class in the university’s history.

5,236: The number of degrees those students earned.

3,473: The number of graduates who were expected to attend Sunday’s ceremony.

20,268: Number of students graduating from Oregon University System schools.

2,498: Number of male graduates in this year’s OSU class.

2,481: Number of female graduates in this year’s OSU class.

4,130: Number of bachelor’s degrees awarded.

766: Number of master’s degrees awarded.

197: Number of doctor of philosophy (Ph.D.) degrees awarded.

86: Number of doctor of pharmacy degrees awarded.

57: Number of doctor of veterinary medicine degrees awarded.

303: Number of candidates who earned degrees through distance education. They received one of 23 different degrees.

164: Number of veterans receiving degrees.

35: Number of Oregon’s 36 counties represented in the class of 2012.

48: Number of the 50 states represented in the class.

53: Number of countries represented in the class.

76: Age of the oldest candidate.

18: Age of the youngest candidate.

25: Average age of the class.

894: Number of baccalaureate degrees presented by the College of Liberal Arts, the college with the largest number of degrees awarded.

158: Number of minutes from the time the processional started entering Reser Stadium to the time when the degrees were actually being physically handed out, the moment marking the end of the official ceremony.

21: Length of Michelle Obama’s commencement speech, in minutes.

60: The number of minutes Michelle Obama was on stage at Reser Stadium, from 4:30 p.m. to about 5:30.

4: Number of degrees earned by one particular candidate, who was not identified at the ceremony.

60: The number of feet in the “gray zone” between the platform holding the speakers and the rest of the participants; the zone, to which access was strictly controlled, was required by the Secret Service.

1: Number of explosive-sniffing dogs that examined gear brought into the stadium by journalists covering the event.

130: The estimated number of press credentials OSU issued for the ceremony.

1: Number of observed beachballs tossed about by graduates waiting for the ceremony to begin.

Zero: Number of times Michelle Obama mentioned her husband by name during her speech.

Speech highlights

Here are highlights from Michelle Obama’s remarks at Oregon State University’s commencement ceremony on Sunday:

• “Success isn’t about how your life looks to others. It’s about how it feels to you. Success is not about being impressive. It means being inspired.”

• Speaking about the early success that she and her brother, Craig Robinson, OSU men’s basketball coach, enjoyed in the corporate world: “We still had all the traditional markers of success with a fat paycheck, the fancy office, the impressive lines on our resumes. But the truth is, neither of us was all that fulfilled. ... I was living the dream, but it wasn’t my dream. Craig felt the same way, unbeknownst to me.”

• “Success is only meaningful and enjoyable if it feels like your own.”

• “No matter what struggles or setbacks you face in your life, focus on what you have, not on what you are missing.”

• “Graduates, the true measure of success will be what you do when life knocks you to the ground.”

• “If you’re in a fight with someone, make up. If you’re holding a grudge, let it go. If you love someone, tell them. ... Liking them on Facebook doesn’t count. Nor does following then on Twitter. What counts is making the time to be there in person.”

• On how she came to speak in Corvallis: “Craig told me that if I didn’t come he was going to tell Mom. ... And in my house, because my mom lives with us, that threat comes with some weight.”

• “When I come out here to Corvallis, I am not the first lady, I am Coach Robinson’s little sister. I sleep on the pullout couch in their living room.”

• “I wish for all you graduates a life rich in all the things that truly matter.”


Contact Gazette-Times reporter Gail Cole at 541-758-9510 or gail.cole@gazettetimes.com.


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