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2024 Ohio State commencement speaker Chris Pan was not recommended by advisory committee

OSU President Ted Carter (left) and Spring 2024 Commencement Speaker Chris Pan (right)
Ohio State University
OSU President Ted Carter (left) participates in a magic trick with Spring 2024 Commencement Speaker Chris Pan (right) involving a quarter and a bitcoin on May 10, 2024.

Former First Lady Michelle Obama, NBA icon Lebron James and Olympic gold medal swimmer Michael Phelps were some of the blockbuster names recommended by students, staff and faculty for the Spring 2024 Ohio State commencement.

The ultimate choice for speaker, businessman and inspirational speaker Chris Pan, was not on the list.

Pan has appeared on previous lists generated by the Commencement Speaker Advisory Committee, but not since 2019 when he was listed as a choice for the Fall commencement. Pan was brought up again the next year, but not in the initial batch of recommendations.

WOSU obtained the last five years of commencement speaker lists through a public records request. For more than half the commencements since 2019, the university went with a choice other than whom was recommended by the advisory committee.

That choice is ultimately left up to the university president's office. New Ohio State President Walter "Ted" Carter Jr. took office this year and said he didn't review Pan's speech before he took the stage.

Pan's speech was unusual, notably for a magic trick involving Carter and a bitcoin. Pan also tried to encourage students to invest in cryptocurrency, only to get booed. Pan also sang two songs: 4 Non Blonde's "What's Up" and "This Little Light of Mine."

Pan also revealed on social media that he took the psychedelic drug ayahuasca when writing the speech and tried using ChatGPT artificial intelligence. He told New York Magazine in an interview Thursday that he also took "mushroom journeys, psilocybin journeys" when writing the speech.

Besides Phelps, James and Obama, the advisory committee also recommended the following people for this year's commencement:

  • Pop star Lizzo
  • Former host of The Daily Show Trevor Noah
  • Actress Rita Moreno
  • Actress Lupita Nyong'o
  • Author Roxane Gay
  • University of Houston research professor Brene Brown
  • Actor Morgan Freeman
  • Harvard social ethics professor Dr. Mahzarin Banaji

It's not clear why Ohio State chose Pan over the other names on the list. It's not clear from the lists whether the recommended speakers declined to appear or not.
Previously, OSU's president picked attorney and social justice advocate Bryan A. Stevenson over names like Vice President Kamala Harris and American Poet Laureate Amanda Gorman in 2023. They also picked Intel CEO Patrick Gelsinger in 2022 over names like singer Dolly Parton and astronaut Buzz Aldrin.

The last Spring commencement speaker to be recommended by the advisory committee and be chosen in the same year was Apple CEO Tim Cook, who delivered the speech virtually in 2020.

WOSU is still waiting on public records requests submitted for communications between Carter, Pan and members of the advisory committee.

George Shillcock is a reporter for 89.7 NPR News. He joined the WOSU newsroom in April 2023 following three years as a reporter in Iowa with the USA Today Network.