In My Ohio

On John Kasich, Commencement Speaker

Darren C. Demaree
Last night the college where I teach, Miami Jacobs Career College, held our graduation ceremony at Grandview Heights High School auditorium. We were all very excited, not just because so many of our favorite students would get to experience this culmination of their efforts, but because Ohio Governor John Kasich had agreed to deliver an address. In the recent past we’ve had a member of the state supreme court, an ex-OSU wide receiver, and last year we had several students that have become successes in their chosen field return to us to rally the graduates. The speeches are always short, heart-felt, and if not delivered well, at least delivered with energy and the best of intentions. Last night was very different.
Kasich walked in just as it was time for the directors and faculty to enter the auditorium, he milled about silently until it was our turn to enter in front of the soon-to-be graduates, and he sat down, not on stage with the other leaders of the school, but with his aids in a seat in the corner of the room.
After the initial welcome to the students and their friends and family, the Governor was introduced. He walked onto the stage, took the microphone, and as the applause bent towards anticipation of what he might say, he announced to the crowd that he didn’t have a speech to read to them. He announced this proudly, quickly walking off the stage to address the crowd in the lower bowl of the auditorium, explaining that he had jotted down four qualities he thought it took to succeed in one’s pursuit of education. He showed us the folded up piece of paper. There were, indeed, only four things scrawled crudely on it.
He began to address the four topics on the sheet of paper, quickly mentioning things like “determination”, before very quickly (in odd loops of political waltz) bringing those topics to goals and desires he had for Ohio’s future. He talked about the importance of making one’s own destiny, and not relying on the government for help that surely was not actually wanted, but was taken out of confusion and need. Those needs he felt should be trumped by personal sacrifice and effort. This was bold, I thought, in a room where many people rely on government aid, but the man never did say “food stamps” directly, so I imagine he felt he was giving everyone the gentle call-to-arms they so badly needed.
He talked about the importance of them becoming small business owners in the community, so they could help lift the burden from the schools and from the government, and if all went according to plan they would be the ones responsible for stopping crime and strengthening education in Ohio.
He did this all in a meandering, off-the-cuff fashion that led to him stumbling through words, repeating himself, and at certain points struggling to find a point of attack to move forward through this unplanned and unrehearsed attempt to court a crowd of inner-city families. Once, finally lost in his own maze of rhetoric and pivoting attempts to teach lessons to the people, he turned to God, and brought up the possibility that it was every Christian’s duty to do more for other people. A nice point, Christian or otherwise, but it came with no lead into it, it was just the next speech bullet in his political arsenal.
The crowd cheered for the man. I will give him that. He bobbed and weaved, made almost no sense at certain points, but the man is experienced enough to know when to hit the right buzz words. They applauded each directive, and when he was finally done speaking, they applauded with actual hope that whatever they had gleamed from his parade of superlatives would hold true for them.
The speech was not much more that snapshot of political chatter, and outside of the meager framework of his speaking points origami, it had almost nothing to do with graduating from college.
After he finished, he walked back onto the stage, handed off the microphone, shook a couple of lead educators' hands, and headed out before a single graduate could hear their name be called. He could have shaken one of their hands at least, but I’m not sure he even managed to do that.
I understand that it was a big deal that he came to speak at our graduation, it is an inspiring thing for anybody to get to hear a governor speak, but I expected he might actually deliver a speech of some value to these students. I know most of them, and most of them had to work their asses off to finish school. They had kids, jobs, unstable financial situations, and they beat the odds to do this. I am so incredibly proud of some of them that my palms are still sore from applauding what they were able to accomplish.
The future of Ohio is a bright one, and it is bright because of the fifty or sixty students that graduated from Miami Jacobs last night.  In a night that was mostly a bad play, they managed to give us a tremendous final act. They walked across that stage, they shook everyone’s hand, and they descended those stairs with a real sense of purpose.