At first, I thought I was one of several student speakers, such that each college sent a representative, and so I was just the one from the College of Business picked. No, it became clear after speaking with the associate director in change of commencement that I was the speaker for all the students at the pre-commencement dinner on the night before commencement. President Gee was going to be introducing me as the representative of all students to speak to the trustees, honorees, deans, and their guests. It didn't sink in until the actual event.
Professor Lahmers -- my business law professor -- had nominated me, but she wasn't able to attend due to a trip out of town. "Pimp your book," she told me. "This is the first time a non-traditional student has done this. Take advantage."
I was told I'd have 3-5 minutes to speak. The subject was, vaguely, "my experience at Ohio State." Now, in case you didn't know, I'm an introvert. I dwell on things, and worry, and live inside my head. The thought of standing in front of strange people and speaking.... well, it's not pleasant. But if there's one thing that being a panelist at science fiction conventions does, it relaxes you about talking on any subject in front of a crowd. And just this Memorial Day, I had stood in front of a crowd of several hundred fans to receive the Compton Crook Award. And two years ago, I stood in front of an even larger audience and received Tim Pratt's Hugo in Yokohama. (Do extroverts even count the times they stand in front of crowds? Do the extroverts envy the introverts for anything?)
I decided to write my speech about what it meant to be a non-traditional student in the working professional MBA program. Since no other such student speaker had this perspective on things. The idea that I latched onto was the fact that life didn't stop for a non-traditional student -- we didn't go away to college for 4 years. We didn't live in dorms. We had families and lives and jobs and none of that stopped when we started our program. I combined that with a blog entry I had done about a month ago, talking about how milestones were not the point of any journey, that you have to enjoy the journey itself because that's where a person spends 99.9% of the time.
Thursday was my last class. Friday was the College of Business Graduation Ceremony. Saturday was the pre-commencement dinner. A jam-packed weekend, with a science fiction convention tacked on top of all that, as well as a brunch with the folks to celebrate. Candice took a look at the speech, but I didn't show it to anyone else. It was sweet on Stacey, so I wanted that to be a surprise for her. The associate director had offered people up to help me with the speech, but we vain writers think we can write everything ourselves. I started to have doubts as I sat and watched the speaker at Friday's ceremony. Did I have anything worthwhile to say?
Friday I learned that I had received a scholarship recognition, as 1 of the top 6 students in the graduating class. Cool beans. I hadn't expected it, and nearly all the students who also received the same recognition were those I had worked with on past projects. The Fisher Scholar Award is for students who had the best GPA in core coursework. The Weidler Scholar Award is for students who had the best GPA in core and elective coursework. The same 6 of us were honored in both categories. That probably happens a lot. I also got a clock. I realized that I would be speaking for all of these students who I had worked with for 2 years, many I considered good friends after the times we had had together. It was suddenly a bigger responsibility than before.
Saturday, Stacey and I gussied up for the big event, after I got home from a panel for Context on writing and marketing short stories. I wore my suit -- still fits! -- with the new tie Mom-mom had given me that day for a graduation gift. Stacey wore a very nice black dress; she looked incredibly sexy. We arrived at exactly 6pm at the Faculty Club.
We had arrived at the same time the night before and been a little late. But that night we were very early! Apparently the deans, trustees, and honorees knew to arrive late for the pre-commencement dinner.
Stacey is an introvert too, so we were a little tentative about things. Dean Mangum was nice enough to come by and speak with us for a while. Then the photographer arrived to snap our picture.
President Gee appeared (6:35pm!) and worked the crowd. We saw him with Archie Griffin for a moment. I had brought a copy of my second book to give to President Gee and hoped to do so, but he jumped from person to person like a hummingbird. He never came our way, even though we placed ourselves in strategic locations that we expected he would pass by. His walk was too random.
Dinner was announced and we drifted upstairs. We found ourselves seated at table 2, with various trustees and provosts, including Dean Pat Osmer and his lovely wife Anita on our right and Ms. Alex Swain, the undergraduate trustee, a very passionate student and most probably an extrovert, on our left.
President Gee worked our table, introducing himself to Stacey and myself. In the time it took me to reach down and grab my book, he had moved on to speak with Alex. I couldn't find a moment to interrupt, and then he was off! Once more, he came to our table, mistaking table 2 for his table 1, and just as I was about to offer the book to him, he turned smartly around and headed back his rightful spot. He's slippery, that President Gee, very slippery.
Dinner was lovely, beef and salmon. Anita noted that they usually served chicken at these functions, which is what the ceremony the night before served. Stacey and I, listening to the conversations at the table, realized that we were among the ruling class this night: the ruling class of The Ohio State University, possibly the ruling class of Columbus.
Immediately after dinner, Dean Osmer introduced the honorees for the night, including Ohio Supreme Court Justice Tom Moyer, Nobel Laureate Chemist George Olah, and Chemical Company CEO John Shepherd. Then he introduced President Gee, who spoke for a few minutes about each of them, and then Gee introduced me.
Yes, I was introduced by Gordon Gee.
Much fun was made of my first graduate degree from the University of Michigan. I played along. He spoke of my books and the awards I had won. It was all very flattering, a given, since I had written most of it myself in the bio I had sent over! Then it was my turn to speak.
I stood and grabbed my book. This was serendipitous as President Gee handed me a gift -- a medal (front/back) -- and I was able to hand him a copy of my book in return. Triumph! After three tries I had finally managed to slip him the book, and in front of 100 people.
I turned to podium and unfolded the speech.
Here is what I said:
Yes, this is my second graduate degree, and yes, the first one came from the University of Michigan. Somehow as of last night I feel karmicly balanced. A Big Ten tabula rasa. Only 9 more Big Ten schools to go.
I've been asked to speak a few minutes about my experience at Ohio State in the MBA working professional program. I've found it impossible to do. I can't really separate off that one piece of my life – the MBA – from everything else. As a working professional student, life kept on going while I was in the program. Going to class, reading, doing homework, just became a part of the amalgam of my life. Let me try to explain.
In the past 27 months,
- My household celebrated 14 birthdays, Claire's first two, Graham's second and third, my 40th.
- We attended 2 20 year high school reunions.
- I published 2 novels and a collection of short stories.
- I changed jobs and got two raises.
- My third child Graham, born with a hypoplastic right ventricle (half a heart), had his third and final open heart surgery at Childrens Hospital.
- I won two awards for my first novel.
- I lost three other awards, traveling in one case all the way to Japan to do so. I loved Japan, but had a lot of trouble with the doors there. They always opened the wrong way.
- I attended 200 classes at Fisher, wrote 50 papers, read 30 books.
- I missed the opening day of some 2000 movies.
- I spent countless hours in the spacious conference rooms of Gerlach hall.
- I had 50 dinners at #1 Chinese Restaurant over there on High Street (I recommend the Beef with Pea Pods), and dinner twice now at the Faculty Club.
- I drove to work 450 times, attended 1500 meetings.
- I bought a new car.
- I got a Hollywood agent, learned that Zac Efron was interested in my book (I had to ask my daughter Audrey who he was, but apparently he's a big deal for the young folk), and had my people talk with his people. I was not involved.
- I kissed my wife over two thousand times.
- And, yes, I started and completed an MBA.
It's been a very busy 2 and a quarter years. How's it been for you all?
There's a bit of advice I tell my writing students whenever I teach writers workshops. A lot of these new writers are waiting for the glory, the awards, the moment when the Japanese fans clap and shout your name. They think, if I could just sell that first story. If I could just get an agent. If I could just get a nomination for the Hugo. Then things would be different. It'll all change.
But they’re wrong. Writing – life – isn't about the milestones. If you spend your days waiting for the accolades, for the awards, for the day you sell your book, for the day you see it in the book store, for the day you win an award, for the day you get your MBA, you're going to be sorely disappointed. 99.9% of the time, you’re in the car, on your way, traveling somewhere. The milestones are few and far between.
Getting my degree -- yeah, that's nice. Speaking with you all tonight -- I'm glad to be here. But frankly, the milestone is nothing compared to the journey. It's where we spend most of our time anyway. I'd never trade the 2000 kisses with my wife for another degree. That's the journey. That's the part that you have to enjoy.
A lot of new writers, they don't get that.
I'm glad to be done, oh, yeah. Don't get me wrong. And so is my wife. But not because I've reached a milestone, have this third diploma, gotten to stand up in front of all of you tonight. No, why I'm happy is because I get to take the next exit for somewhere new. It's time to write another book. Or get my black belt in Taekwondo. Or get another degree. A PhD or JD this time.
Maybe in a few years.
Thank you all for the honor of speaking tonight, and enjoy the journey.
After that the other honorees spoke, all very gracious. And before long, the evening was over. I shook hands with a number of people who said they enjoyed by talk, and Stacey said I did well. It's all on tape, but I haven't watched it yet. Maybe next week. It's still all wild in my mind.
I hadn't realized how big it was until it happened, until the night. I was representing every graduating student at OSU this quarter, speaking as their class representative. What an honor, and I'm not sure how it fell to me. I hope I was an adequate representative.
The best part of the night was as Stacey and I were leaving, having taken a picture with President Gee and shaken more hands. We were just leaving down the spiral staircase, when Archie Griffin walked up and shook my hand. "Good job," he said. "Nice speech."
Then it must have been so.