A framed quote on the wall of Dr. E. Gordon Gee’s office in Bricker Hall reads:
“If you don’t like change, you’re going to like irrelevance much less.”
Today, Dr. Gee announced his retirement from his role as president of The Ohio State University. Was it premature? Perhaps. Expected? Some would say yes. Heartbreaking? Ask Buckeye Nation. Maybe they could give you an answer between the tears and tissues.
I had the pleasure of working with Dr. Gee for the past four years. (Note the emphasis. Those specific words were chosen intentionally.) As I sit here reflecting, admittedly choking up a bit, I can’t help but think of the countless things I’d like to say to Gordon. Among them:
Thank you for teaching our students to embrace what makes them unique. As referenced in that incredible Time Magazine article which featured you as the #1 College President in America, you claimed on one of your many summer state tours; “I am a bit odd. I am a bit evangelical. But I am not crazy.” It’s this authenticity that makes you so irresistible to everyone, from students and community members, to celebrities and dignitaries. The Toledo Blade featured and editorial earlier this week explaining that “When Mr. Gee gets in trouble, it is because he is unguarded, often refreshingly so, in our uptight, politically correct age. His comments are sometimes silly, but they come from candor, not the arrogance of power.” Nailed it.
You are brilliant, and you recognize and nurture the brilliance in others. In a society where Higher Education is criticized for holding on so dearly to tradition often at the sacrifice of strategy, efficiency, and progress, you introduced a culture that honors a storied past while rewarding ingenuity and innovation. Under your six-year second term as President, the University has made the type of progress that most could only dream of achieving in a lifetime at a beast of an institution like Ohio State. You were always up to something, but never found it worthwhile or special to pursue unless you had others to be excited with you. You crossed traditional boundaries, formed partnerships that no one else would dare attempt, and made room for your staff, faculty, and students to be bold and think big, too.
If there were ever to be declared a “People’s President” in Higher Education, you would be it. Social media feeds across Buckeye Nation today are filled with students, faculty, staff, alumni, and friends featuring their photos with you at some of the most important, impressive, happy, and even mundane or silly moments of their lives. The fact that they even have these photos speaks volumes. I’ve seen your schedule on a random Wednesday. (I’m fairly certain you sleep in 15-minute intervals, if at all.) And while everything on that schedule could be considered “work,” there is no doubt in my mind that you are truly thankful for the good, the bad, and even the ugly of every second of it. We see it in the sparkle of your eyes through those horn-rimmed glasses, the lightness of your giggle and signature bow tie, the genuine handshakes, and that mischievous grin. You ARE Ohio State. You made us not just your professional duty, but your personal priority. This world’s history is peppered with a special few who have welcomed that level of self-sacrifice for the betterment of an idea, an institution, and a people. Thank you for loving us that much.
Among all of the invaluable lessons I have learned from Gordon, the most poignant is simply this:
Winners are not the ones who play the game the best. They are they ones who rise above the game entirely.
And win is exactly what E. Gordon Gee did today.
We love you, President Gee. We’re still here for you, likely many of us eating Peanut M&Ms and drinking Diet Dr. Pepper in your honor. Also, I suspect we’ll see a rise in bow tie sales shortly.