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Ohio State grad Michael Redd enjoys ’surreal’ commencement speech

Adam Jardy
ajardy@dispatch.com
Ohio State's Michael Redd (22) drives against St. John's Tyrone Grant Saturday, March 20, 1999, in the NCAA South Regional Championship in Knoxville, Tenn. Ohio State won 77-74 to advance to the Final Four.

Morrill Tower hosts Ohio State students on 20 floors, topping out on the 23rd with a view from a certain side that peeks into adjacent Ohio Stadium.

As a freshman and Columbus native, Michael Redd remembers the fun times spent there. It was a season that saw him eventually be named Big Ten freshman of the year in 1998, setting him onto the path that would lead him to a storied NBA career, an Olympic gold medal and a successful post-basketball life as an investor, philanthropist and businessman who would be chosen to give the summer commencement speech at his alma mater.

And as Redd reflected on the journey as well as the speech he delivered during Sunday’s virtual commencement ceremony, there was a lot to reflect upon – including the sight of a completely illuminated panel of elevator floor buttons in his freshman dorm.

“I remember being a kid that was 18 years old, pressing all the buttons on the elevator at Morrill Tower, goofing around in the dorm,” Redd told The Dispatch. “From that moment to now, 20-plus-years later, to being a speaker at commencement, it was surreal.”

The path to the podium at Value City Arena started roughly three weeks ago, Redd said, when Ohio State athletic director Gene Smith called him to extend the invitation. At first, Redd said he thought Smith was pulling a prank on him, but he then immediately said yes before he could even process what it might mean to him.

What followed was a lot of self-reflection, conversations with his wife and close friends and ultimately a decision to speak from the heart about his own experience.

“I think authenticity and vulnerability always resonates with anybody,” Redd said. “Nothing is impossible. That’s been the story of my life and I want everyone to be able to feel that level of confidence. Hopefully they walked away saying, I can conquer the world.”

That meant sharing specific details about his upbringing. Redd recalled a story about returning home hungry as a child after playing basketball to learn that his mom was only cooking cabbage, Brussels sprouts and beans. When he said he wasn’t wanting that for dinner, his mom told him he must not be hungry then.

It was a lesson about drive and hunger that Redd said he hoped came across in his address, which lasted roughly 10 minutes. It was one delivered to a mostly empty arena, one that Redd said was occupied by roughly 30 people due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Upon his introduction, Redd joked that he could hear virtual applause.

The absence of bodies didn’t take away from the moment.

“Although no one was there, I felt the weight of what our graduates were going through and what they were going to endeavor,” he said. “It was a huge moment I didn’t want to take for granted. There’s a new era that’s dawning for these graduates and I felt that. I was focused on talking to each graduate as if I was talking to them across the table drinking coffee.”

In closing, Redd challenged Ohio State’s graduates to “dare to be different. Distinction makes history, not sameness. Not average.” It was the capper to an honor Redd described as a personal highlight.

“There’s no question that’s up there,” he said. “With all of the history that I have at Ohio State, to be in that moment, to be able to represent the athletic department, to represent all of the people who helped me along the way was just an incredible time. I was reflecting back on my time at Morrill Tower and the university.

“How did I get here? Very honored. It ranks very high, for sure.”

ajardy@dispatch.com

@AdamJardy