Ohio State University announces autumn commencement speaker

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Make-A-Wish Foundation co-founder plans to tell graduates that ‘Everyone can be a hero’

Published on November 19, 2015

The Ohio State University today announced that Frank Shankwitz, co-founder of the Make-A-Wish Foundation, will address graduates as speaker for the autumn 2015 commencement. Approximately 3,000 degrees will be awarded at the ceremony, which begins at 2 p.m. on Sunday, Dec. 20, in the Schottenstein Center.

The Make-A-Wish Foundation has granted over 350,000 wishes to children all over the world since its inception in 1980.

Shankwitz says he plans to talk about pride, honor and respect and remind graduates that “Everyone can be a hero” in his address.

“It is an honor to welcome Frank Shankwitz as the speaker at the university’s 411th Commencement ceremony,” said President Michael V. Drake. “His life story exemplifies how one person’s inspiration to help others can make a powerful difference around the world.”

Shankwitz, a retired 41-year veteran of law enforcement, founded the Make-A-Wish Foundation while working as part of an Arizona Highway Patrol motorcycle unit. In that role, during slack time from normal patrol duty, he visited local grade schools around the state, talking about bicycle safety and letting the children sit on his motorcycle.

In 1980, he was among the Arizona Highway Patrol officers responsible for granting the “wish” of a 7-year-old boy with leukemia who wanted to be a Highway Patrol motorcycle officer like his heroes, Ponch and Jon from the television show “CHiPS.” The boy was made the first and only honorary Arizona Highway Patrol Officer in the history of the patrol, complete with a custom made uniform, badge and Motor Officer Wings.

The boy succumbed to his illness shortly after receiving his “wish” and was the inspiration for Shankwitz to start the Make-A-Wish Foundation, which would let children with life-threatening illnesses “make a wish” and have it come true. He was a co-founder and also the first president/CEO of the foundation.

Shankwitz and the organization have received numerous awards and honors. In 2004, he received “The President’s Call To Service” award from President George W. Bush. In 2006, he received the “Making A Difference In The World” award from the U.S. Military Academy at West Point. In May 2015, Shankwitz joined six U.S. presidents, as well as Nobel Prize winners and leaders of industry, as a recipient of the Ellis Island Medal of Honor.

In August 2015, he founded a new nonprofit, The Ripple Effect Foundation, and is the president/CEO and board chair of the foundation.

Shankwitz’s life story will soon be featured in an upcoming Universal Studios motion picture, "An American Hero", which is scheduled to begin filming in spring, 2016.

During the ceremony, Ohio State will award the Joseph Sullivant Medal to Thomas D. Brock, who earned his B.S. (1949), M.S. (1950) and Ph.D. (1952) in botany at Ohio State. He is credited with the discovery of microorganisms that not only survive but grow at very high temperatures in the geothermally heated waters in Yellowstone Park hot springs. The discovery is considered one of the fundamental milestones of microbiology. Brock is retired and is the E.B. Fred Professor of Natural Sciences Emeritus at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

The Joseph Sullivant Medal was established in 1920 and is awarded every five years to individuals for “notable achievement… in the form of an important invention, discovery, contribution to science, the practical solution of a significant engineering, economic or agricultural problem, or the production of a valuable literary, artistic, historical, philosophical, or other work.”

In addition, the university will award the honorary Doctor of Science degree to Sir Adrian F.M. Smith, vice-chancellor of the University of London, who has made diverse contributions to Bayesian statistics.

Ohio State will also present the Distinguished Service Award to Mabel Freeman, former assistant vice president for Undergraduate Admissions and First Year Experience, who played a pivotal role in the lives of a generation of Ohio State graduates.


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Producers: Ohio State has a broadcast studio with Vyvx and ISDN technology. To schedule an expert, contact Joe Camoriano, 614-378-6478.

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