A message to Ohio’s 2020 graduates


At this time of year, thousands of Ohio students would normally be walking across stages in auditoriums, gyms and arenas to proudly accept their high school, college, or graduate school diplomas. With graduations canceled this year, students and their teachers, friends, and families will miss the chance to celebrate together.

I will, too. I was really looking forward to being at several Ohio community college graduation ceremonies as the commencement speaker. It’s always inspiring to be with students as they achieve one of the great milestones in life.

To the graduates, even if we can’t all get together this year at a ceremony, know that we are all proud of you and we congratulate you for your hard work and persistence. Here are a few things to keep in mind as you look forward to the future.

First, just as you didn’t let the coronavirus stop you from earning your degree, don’t let it keep you from achieving your goals. Prior to the coronavirus pandemic, you had plans and dreams for after graduation — to pursue another degree, start work, maybe get a new job with the skills you’ve learned, or enter the military. Stay the course.

When times are tough, as they have been for many these past couple of months, it can be easy to get sidetracked and chalk it up to bad luck. Life is full of unexpected roadblocks, but I have found in my own life that luck is what you make of it. As a wise man once told me, the harder I work, the luckier I get. No matter what else happens around you, you alone control how much effort you give, and you alone have the power to determine your future. Whatever you end up doing in the coming years, give it your all.

Second, with your diploma in hand, chart your own path in life, not the path that someone lays out for you. Whatever the passion is that gets you out of bed in the morning is the one worth pursuing, even if achieving it is difficult and full of risk. So many people have worked to get you to this point — your family, your friends, your teachers, and more — but what you do next is up to you. And if you don’t know what your passion is yet, that’s okay. Don’t be afraid to try new things and see what sticks with you. Trust me — I didn’t plan on being a United States Senator when I graduated! For me, it was only after I had the chance to see the influence government can have that I realized I wanted to be involved in trying to help people through public service.

And finally, I’ll share with you an old Portman family motto: Be ever kind and true — BEKAT. So much of succeeding in life is based on relationships built on trust, and kindness and honesty matter every single day and in everything you do. That’s as true in a family as it is in a business, and as true on the shop floor as it is on the Senate floor.

The coronavirus has hit our country hard, and make no mistake — these are uncertain times. But with every dark cloud comes a silver lining. I think one of the unintended effects of this pandemic has been to slow us all down a little and give us time to appreciate the importance of family and friends and to reflect a little more on what’s important — life’s simple gifts are often the best.

I know we are going to bounce back as a state and as a country, and so much of that faith comes from what I see in the next generation, including those students graduating this year. Ohio is starting to get back on its feet and reopen, and that’s good. Of course, we need to do it safely, and we all have a role to play in that. Our recent graduates will help lead the way to get us back to an America that once again moves forward with confidence and continues to be a beacon of hope and opportunity for everyone.


By Sen. Rob Portman

U.S. Sen. Rob Portman (R) represents Ohio.

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