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Ohio State Graduates Subjected To Commencement Speaker’s Cryptobabble And Bad Singing

The first two minutes of Chris Pan's commencement speech to the Ohio State class of 2024 were unremarkable, if mildly rushed. As he lauded the graduating class for enduring the pandemic and briefly spoke about his family's journey from Taiwan to Ohio, there would have been no way to prepare for the lunacy to come. After introducing himself, Pan then conducted a group breathing exercise, invited the Buckeyes to sing along to a remixed version of "What's Up?" and delivered 15 minutes of incredible, uncanny public speaking.

Pan's scattershot speech included an anecdote about how he was going to go on antidepressants to get over a breakup but instead started singing, a bunch of obnoxious pablum about how "world peace starts with inner peace," and an invocation to the class of 2024 to "be the flower in the gun."

"Hurt people hurt people, but healed people heal people," Pan said. This is the kind of insight they restrict to the premium LinkedIn users. There was also piano music and more box breathing. Pan ended things by bopping along to a dance remix of "This Little Light Of Mine," and he spent a significant amount of time lauding Bitcoin, which drew loud groans and boos from the audience. As a peace offering, he said he'd give each graduate one of his sketchy manifestation bracelets.

How did this happen? Pan, a graduate of the class of 1999, is not famous, nor a leader in any field. He went to Harvard Business School after graduating from Ohio State, then worked for McKinsey, Pepsi, and Facebook until he started becoming a more spiritual-style huckster. As everyone learned to painful effect, he is not a gifted speaker nor an insightful thinker. He teaches a bunch of bullshit courses about crypto and the power of song.

Some reporting from The Rooster shed a bit of light on the situation: Regarding the content of the speech, Pan said he wrote it on ayahuasca. But he probably got on the school's radar by giving a speech to the Honors & Scholars Department in 2018 (that speech shares some DNA with his graduation address). Pan was not on the shortlist of commencement speakers, but he was personally selected by Ohio State president Ted Carter, who was appointed in August 2023. Someone involved in the process told The Rooster, "[Pan] is the worst person I have ever worked with." In an Instagram story post, Pan posed with Carter and noted that he and his daughter were both connected to two of Pan's interests.

Pan and Carter together, via Instagram
Pan posing with Carter, via Instagram

Pan had been posting on LinkedIn (obviously) and Instagram about the process of drafting the speech. It will not surprise you to learn that in addition to ayahuasca, he experimented with ChatGPT to help him write it. He has also been posting previous drafts of his speech, which included a bit where he got shirtless and a long, garbled riff about the slaughter in Gaza, which he thinks could be solved with an "abundance mindset." ("Where is the Ghandi of the Middle East?" he wondered on Instagram.)

From The Rooster:

For a Commencement as big as Ohio State’s there’s a well-established process of draft speeches, speech approvals, and rehearsals.

The draft speeches did not go as planned. His early draft speeches contained extensive references to Israel and Palestine, and their shared humanity, which the university asked him to remove, according to sources.

This did not go over well with Pan, who was described as “very angry” while threatening to drop out of the prestigious role entirely.

However, cooler heads prevailed and Pan traveled to Ohio State early last week. He wasted little time offering searing insight into his brain chemistry by giving away necklaces and a ukulele to baffled May Day protestors and assembled local media crews.

The Rooster

There are some unintentional lessons here for Ohio State's class of 2024: Impressive credentials don't make anyone smarter or more worthy of having a public platform. You are not automatically qualified for anything just because you went to Harvard or worked at McKinsey. The people above you—whether they be CEOs, university presidents, or music-mindset social entrepreneurs—are not necessarily in their perches because of any intellectual heft or brilliant insight. And sometimes, when given the opportunity to perform for an audience who didn't pay to be flattered, they'll show you just how dumb and phony they really are.

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