JULIE CARR SMYTH
COLUMBUS — U.S. House Speaker John Boehner poked brief fun at one scandal on Sunday and Ohio State University’s president sought to elevate his institution above another during the university’s largest ever graduation ceremony.
Boehner, a Cincinnati Republican, peppered his 8-minute speech to a record 9,700 graduates and about 40,000 relatives and friends with emotion, advice and a joke about the name of a colleague involved in a scandal over lewd photos.
Saying his own name was often mispronounced — sometimes rhyming with the words “honor” and “leaner,” sometimes even being called “boner” — Boehner (pronounced BAY’-nur) said, “Thank God it’s not Weiner.” Fellow U.S. Rep. Anthony Weiner, a New York Democrat, admitted last week to sexually explicit communications with as many as six women via social networking sites such as Facebook and Twitter.
Graduates assembled under clear blue skies. Many sported shorts and flip-flops under their black robes, and some wore mortarboards decked out with scarlet and gray O’s, sequins, gift-wrap bows, feathers or pipe-cleaner creations. Students held balloons or flags to identify themselves, or scanned the crowd — cellphones to their ears — looking for loved ones.
Boehner told graduates that it is important to work hard, persevere and be humble.
“You know, life isn’t always about you,” he said. “I’m a big believer that everything in life is a two-way street, and being useful to others, being involved in your community, finding some way to serve is part as what I would describe as humility.”
With emotion in his voice, Boehner recalled his bartender father working 10 or 12 hours a day yet still finding time to volunteer.
“So before you think about what you want to do in your life, I would suggest to all of you: Think about who you want to be before you think about what you want to be,” he said.
The university presented Boehner with an honorary doctorate in public service.
During his remarks, Ohio State University President E. Gordon Gee acknowledged the commencement’s location at Ohio Stadium, home to the university’s celebrated and now scandal-scarred football program.
“Let me acknowledge on this day of celebration, in this cathedral of triumph and hope, that many Buckeye hearts are heavy,” Gee said. “On rare occasion, this great, grand building has been home to disappointment and tumult. That is but a temporary condition.”
Gee assured tens of thousands of alumni and supporters of the university, as well as its new graduates, that things will improve.
The university is grappling with the departure of football coach Jim Tressel and star quarterback Terrelle Pryor amid an NCAA investigation into players’ trading of signed equipment, championship rings and other memorabilia to a tattoo-parlor owner for cash and discounted tattoos.
Evoking the memories of great Ohio State athletes of the past, football’s Archie Griffin and track Olympian Jesse Owens, Gee said: “Let no one harbor any doubt that the history of this place is enduring and sustaining. Ohio Stadium stands today as it will ever more.”
The crowd roared and tooted horns.
Aside from his Weiner remark, Boehner steered clear of Washington politics in his speech, despite being locked in a near-daily sparring match with Democratic President Barack Obama over federal budget priorities and the size of the national debt.
A group of students and local activists protested Boehner’s appearance ahead of the event, saying Republican budget proposals in Washington cut taxes to the wealthy while cutting money for schools, health care and clean energy.