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Undergraduate Commencement speaker Bill Brand addresses the Class of 2016.

Undergraduate Commencement speaker Bill Brand addresses the Class of 2016.

Photographer: Ben Siegel

Russ College of Engineering and Technology graduates (from left) Corey Gossard, Abdullah Al Abrik and Zackery George pose for a photo before the 2016 Undergraduate Commencement ceremony.

Russ College of Engineering and Technology graduates (from left) Corey Gossard, Abdullah Al Abrik and Zackery George pose for a photo before the 2016 Undergraduate Commencement ceremony.

Photographer: Ben Siegel

Graduate Jasmine Craig waves to loved ones upon entering the Convocation Center during Undergraduate Commencement.

Graduate Jasmine Craig waves to loved ones upon entering the Convocation Center during Undergraduate Commencement.

Photographer: Ben Siegel

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Class of 2016 celebrated at Undergraduate Commencement, welcomed into alumni family

Nearly four years after members of the Class of 2016 gathered to celebrate the beginning of their academic journey at Ohio University, those individuals gathered once again – this time to celebrate the completion of that journey and the beginning of a new chapter in the journey of life. 

Surrounded by some of the same members of the Ohio University community who welcomed them into the Bobcat family as first-year students, as well as those who supported them along the way, the Class of 2016 marked the pinnacle moment in their OHIO experience during Undergraduate Commencement ceremonies held April 30 in the Convocation Center. 

“Each of you is achieving a personal milestone today,” Ohio University President Roderick J. McDavis said in addressing the nearly 3,000 undergraduates honored during the day’s two Commencement ceremonies. “Graduates, today we honor you, your achievement, your commitment and your passion.”

The ceremonies featured moments of reflection – on opportunities seized, friendships and memories made, and the nurturing received from both family and friends and OHIO’s academic community. And, as the word “commencement” implies, the ceremonies were marked by vision – by moments of looking ahead to what the future holds for these newest members of the OHIO alumni family.

Lessons in life and career from a graduate of the Class of 1987

Among the first to welcome the graduates to the OHIO alumni family was a fellow OHIO graduate and this year’s Undergraduate Commencement speaker, Bill Brand.

A 1987 graduate of what is now the School of Media Arts and Studies, Brand is the president of entertainment and lifestyle retailer HSN and chief marketing officer of HSN, Inc., its parent company.

“Twenty-nine years ago I was in your seat, feeling excited and anxious,” Brand told the Class of 2016. “All I wanted was to get a job. Let me start by assuring you, you will get a job. You’ll probably have a number of jobs over your career. Don’t worry about that right now, because while high school prepares you for college, college prepares you for life. And that’s what I’m going to talk about today: life.”

Building on Ohio University’s five core values of character, citizenship, civility, commitment and community – OHIO’s five C’s, Brand offered the Class of the 2016 his four C’s – the four lessons (connection, curiosity, caring and Crossfit) that have served him in both career and life. 

“Life is about the people you surround yourself with,” Brand said in discussing the importance of connecting with others. “Who’s on your team? … In your career, it’s those connections, those teams you’re on and the teams you form that will determine your success.”

In reflecting on the connections he has made, Brand noted his family and his friends – particularly those he met at Ohio University. Four of those friends, who along with Brand had established a scholarship at the University, were at Commencement, in part, to celebrate their first scholarship winner’s graduation.

“I’m told I’m good at keeping in touch with people,” Brand told the Class of 2016. “The truth is, I work at it. Life gets busy, and it’s important that you make time to connect with the people who have impacted you.”

While the Commencement ceremonies marked the end of the Class of 2016’s journey of learning and discovery at OHIO, Brand stressed the importance of continuing that journey beyond college.

“Just as you aren’t done when you are handed your diploma, you aren’t done when you get that first job,” he said. “You’ve done something, which is important. But you have to keep doing things to keep growing. Not only is the world bigger than we imagine, it’s bigger than we can imagine.”

Brand spoke about how curiosity has been a driving factor in his life and taken his career in unpredictable directions. He shared with the graduates his unlikely career path – one that began as a producer of a nightly news program and that took him to VH1, the Lifetime network and, ultimately, HSN.

“A career path can’t be planned,” Brand said. “The most interesting paths are not straightforward. They’re non-linear. Life is non-linear. Life is more interesting and fulfilling when you follow your heart and are open and true to yourself than if you follow ‘the plan.’”

Brand noted that curiosity has served him best when he’s followed his heart and stayed open – both personally and professionally.

“Caring deeply is what sets you apart because what you care about and the way in which you care will define you,” he said. “Our passions speak for our true selves. Our passions are our heart, worn on the outside.”

Brand talked about the rewarding experiences he has had working with Habitat for Humanity and making a difference in the lives of others.

“As you explore, give more of yourself, listen to others, mentor others, help people in your career and life without reservation or expectation,” he advised the graduates. “Care deeply – it will add meaning and purpose to your life.”

Brand also shared how a hobby of his has shaped his life in ways he never imagined.

“I’m a bit obsessed with Crossfit,” he confessed. “I’m no gifted athlete, but Crossfit isn’t about being the strongest or the fastest. Crossfit is about discipline, focus and being present in the moment.”

In doing Crossfit on a routine basis, Brand said he pushes himself outside his comfort zone and, just by the simple act of showing up, has accomplished something meaningful – lessons that aren’t limited to the gym.

Brand ended his speech with one final C – celebrate. 

“Celebrate all you’ve achieved,” he said. “You are ready for the next part of the adventure. You don’t leave here alone. You go on together, and you take with you the spirit of this very special place.”

A look back and a look ahead from graduates of the Class of 2016

In addition to hearing from a Bobcat who has gone before them, the Class of 2016 had the opportunity to hear from one of its own.

Two graduating seniors, Macy DiRienzo and Haley Trottier, earned the opportunity to serve as the student Undergraduate Commencement speakers through a new competition hosted by the University’s Division of Student Affairs.

In addressing graduates at the morning ceremony, DiRienzo, a photojournalism major, spoke about the ups and downs of the college journey and the transformative nature of the OHIO experience.

“Whether you’ve only been here a year or you’ve taken a few victory laps, it’s safe to say that your time in Athens cannot be measured or expressed in one feeling or emotion,” DiRienzo said. “There are no words to describe what college is really like – exciting and fun, yes, but also scary, exhausting, even tumultuous at times. It’s that mix of all these experiences and emotions happening inside one small Appalachian town’s brick roads.”

In taking time to look back and celebrate all those experiences and emotions, DiRienzo also called upon her fellow graduates to take a moment to reflect on and celebrate the transformation they have each gone through in their time at OHIO.

“We are the collection of all the mistakes, all the feelings and all the experiences that have shaped us into the Bobcats we are today,” she said. “Embrace it all – the good and the bad. Be the phoenix that rises from the flames of adversity and be grateful for the opportunity you had to do your growing up here in Athens.”

In addressing graduates at the afternoon ceremony, Trottier, a communication sciences and disorders major in the Honors Tutorial College, spoke about what it means to be a member of the Bobcat family as a student and a graduate.

“Being a Bobcat is so much more than being a student at a university,” Trottier said. “It is about learning how to balance the different aspects of life while simultaneously making yourself a better person for your community – because we are a family, and that’s what families do for each other.”

Trottier also reflected on the promises that form the basis of the OHIO experience – the promise students make to their academic and other life-enriching commitments while attending Ohio University and the promise the University makes to its students to support and guide them to personal and professional success.

From a warm OHIO welcome freshman year and a push to get involved on campus and in the community to a network of professors who both educated and showed they cared, “We were given opportunities and taught to push the boundaries and stand for what we believed in,” she said.

“OU changed me, like I’m sure it’s changed many of you. It pushed me exactly where I needed to go and helped me to become the person I wanted to be,” Trottier said. “Remember that no matter where we go we will always be Bobcats, and OU will always be our home.”

Class of 2016 reflects on time spent, memories made at OHIO

In the moments before Undergraduate Commencement, Ohio University Communications and Marketing asked members of the Class of 2016 to reflect on their OHIO experience and share their favorite OHIO memory. Here’s what they had to say:

“Walking around town in the last week and remembering being lost freshman year and not knowing where anything was. Now, I have memories every place I go with a story to tell. This place became my home.” 

Jessica Carnprobst, strategic communication, Scripps College of Communication

“Making a best friend on the first day of class, and now we’re here at graduation.”

Carly Reese, music therapy, College of Fine Arts

“Definitely events with Student Alumni Board.” 

Phil Decker, mechanical engineering, Russ College of Engineering and Technology

“Going to Bong Hill with my friends at the end of last school year to watch the sunset. It was awesome.”

Nigel Sullivan, bachelor of specialized studies, University College 

“Doing it all online. I’m on campus for the first time. It’s beautiful.”

Laura Collins, bachelor of technical and applied studies, Regional Higher Education

“Homecoming this past year.”

Hayley Baldzicki, communication studies, Scripps College of Communication

“There are too many memories to specify just one.”

Joe Watson, mechanical engineering, Russ College of Engineering and Technology

“Kendo Club. I just joined my senior year but met so many friends there.”

Taylor Rickey, communication studies, Scripps College of Communication

“One of the things that makes this place special is the people you meet along the way.”

Andrew Schroeder, bachelor of specialized studies, University College

“Goodfellas with my friends.”

Alexandra Wilson, music therapy, College of Fine Arts 

“It only took me 24 years.”

Jimmy Battrell, bachelor of science in applied management, Regional Higher Education 

“Being a part of J-major club. They’re all my buddies.”

Madison Stricklin, strategic communication, Scripps College of Communication

“Seeing how far we’ve come from freshman year to now.”

Mira Kuhar, strategic communication, Scripps College of Communication

“I may be 50, but I got it done!”

Lesa Leonard, bachelor of technical and applied studies, Regional Higher Education

– Compiled by Sarah Lack