Chao-Yang Lee, associate professor in the College of Health Sciences and Professions, takes a photo with students at Graduate Commencement.

Chao-Yang Lee, associate professor in the College of Health Sciences and Professions, takes a photo with students at Graduate Commencement.

Photographer: Ben Siegel

Dr. Risa Whitson, associate professor of geography and in the Women's, Gender, and Sexuality Studies Program, delivers the Graduate Commencement address.

Dr. Risa Whitson, associate professor of geography and in the Women's, Gender, and Sexuality Studies Program, delivers the Graduate Commencement address.

Photographer: Ben Siegel

OHIO alumnus David Crane receives an honorary doctorate degree during this year’s Graduate Commencement ceremony.

OHIO alumnus David Crane receives an honorary doctorate degree during this year’s Graduate Commencement ceremony.

Photographer: Ben Siegel

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Outstanding Graduate Faculty Award and Honorary Degree presented at Graduate Commencement

Nearly 800 students awarded master’s and doctoral degrees

Ohio University conferred about 780 graduate degrees during its 2017 Graduate Commencement ceremony on Friday, April 28, in the Convocation Center on the Athens Campus.

During his remarks, Interim President David Descutner acknowledged incoming President Duane Nellis and his wife, Ruthie, who were seated in the audience. He also thanked the faculty for preparing the next generation of thinkers, leaders, scholars and innovators to succeed in their chosen fields. 

Descutner later introduced the keynote speaker, Dr. Risa Whitson, an associate professor of geography and in the Women’s Gender and Sexuality Studies Program. Her research focuses on how nonstandard labor relations and informal work constitute an important element of changing economic structures and gender performances. Most of her research is based in contemporary Argentina and the United States. 

During her speech, Whitson shared some thoughts on the importance of counting.   

"My research for a number of years was focused on informal work. So in basic terms, this is ‘under the table’ work, work that is not reported to or regulated by the government as work, but passes unnoticed,” Whitson said. “In some ways the definition of informal work is work that is ‘not counted’ by the government.”  

She said that many times this work is not counted because the workers or their employers do not want it to be counted and it is often not recognized as work. She told the story of an informal garbage collector in Buenos Aires, Argentina, who said he was ashamed to do it and would rather work as a carpenter or as a painter. 

"I’m ashamed, to go into the street with my kids, collecting trash. I’m ashamed for my kids,” the man told her.  

Whitson said that although the garbage collector was ashamed of his work, it was a really important and common source of work for many people because it was the only way recycling was occurring in Buenos Aires.  

“So from this perspective, this informal work was making a really valuable contribution to the city and to the environment,” Whitson said. “But it was informal, uncounted and unrecognized.  
Even more than this, it was marginalized and even criminalized.” 
She said that story shows how counting something as work is a recognition of its meaningfulness to society.  

“Thinking about what counts as work is only the first step in asking, who counts as a contributing member of our society?  Whose lives count as important?  Do undocumented migrants count?  Do black lives count?  Do people who identify as transgender count?  Do people with disabilities count?  Who matters to our society?  Who is valued by our society?” Whitson asked.

She said that what our governments, organizations and institutions decide to count is fundamentally important to how we think about ourselves as individuals and our place in the world.  

Whitson then asked, “What if we counted differently?”

“One of the most important aspects of this counting culture is that what we choose to count as an institution is connected to who we see ourselves as being,” Whitson said. “We define ourselves by what we count - so that the goals of the organization or institution that we work for become our own yardsticks for measuring ourselves and our self-worth.”  

Whitson asked the question, “What if, instead of counting articles published or grants applied for, we counted thank you notes received, friendships formed, collaborations forged?” 

She said that two years ago she started counting what mattered in her work differently. She started responding to her students with love.  

“I recall telling my colleagues that my strategy for the coming year was, even with grading, was to approach the task with love. They looked at me like I was totally crazy, and maybe I was,” Whitson said.  

She said she started counting the relationships she made with students, collaborators and research participants as important and approached them not as potential numbers in a metric, but as human beings.  

"I think that this approach made a difference in my life, made me a better researcher and teacher, and I hope it made a difference in the lives of my students as well," Whitson said. "I realized that what has been most meaningful to me as a professor has been my own personal version of informal, invisible, uncounted work. My 'informal' work as a mother, friend and community member."  

Whitson reminded the graduates that they came to graduate school because they believed that something was important enough to dedicate two, five or 10 years, or maybe even their whole life to.

"For many of you, this comes from a desire to change the world, to make it a better place, to help people in the many and various ways that this is possible," she said. "But how do we do this? How can we actually change the world?”  

She told them to keep asking does this count?  

"Make sure you are asking the right person that question. Instead of asking your professor, your employer, the state, or whoever, ask yourself. What counts? Who do you want to be? What kind of world do you want to live in? What and how we count creates the people and society that we will become." 

Dr. Devika Chawla presented 2017 Outstanding Graduate Faculty Award

Pam Benoit, executive vice president and provost, presented the 2017 Outstanding Graduate Faculty Award to Dr. Devika Chawla, professor in the School of Communication Studies. 

The Outstanding Graduate Faculty Award was established in 1972 to recognize a professor who has demonstrated exemplary performance as an instructor, researcher and faculty member. 

Chawla’s research focuses on communicative, performative and narrative approaches to studying family, home and its relationship to social identity. She researches how humans transform themselves in the relationships around them and the resources available to them, particularly in urban India.

She also has studied women’s identities in Hindu arranged marriages, and her most recent book focuses on cross-generational refugee identity among families displaced by India’s Partition of 1947.

Chawla has published four books and numerous articles and teaches graduate courses in communication theory, postcolonial studies, performance studies, critical ethnography and qualitative research methods. As part of the honor, she will serve as keynote speaker at the 2018 Graduate Commencement Ceremony.

Alumnus David Crane presented honorary doctorate of letters degree

The final presentation of the morning ceremony went to David Crane, who earned his bachelor’s degree in history in 1972 and his master’s degree in African studies in 1973 from OHIO. He later earned his J.D. from Syracuse University in 1980 and is now one of the world’s best international law experts. 

Crane has held many positions during his 30-year career with the U.S. federal government. Some of them include: judge advocate for the U.S. Army, assistant general counsel of the Defense Intelligence Agency and founding director of the Office of the Intelligence Review in the Department of Defense. He also has served as the Waldemar A. Solf Professor of International Law and chairman of the International Law Department in the U.S. Army Judge Advocate General’s School.

Among his duties were prosecuting cases, educating attorneys on international humanitarian law and overseeing investigations into acts of terrorism and international aggression. 

After retiring, he was appointed by United Nations Secretary General Kofi Annan as the founding chief prosecutor of the Special Court for Sierra Leone. He was responsible for evaluating and prosecuting individuals who committed crimes against humanity and violations of international human rights that occurred during the Sierra Leone civil war, 1991-2002.

He is the founder and vice president of the “I am Syria” campaign, which educates the world on the Syrian Conflict. He also founded “Impunity Watch,” a law review journal and news reporting site that caters to government officials, non-governmental organizations and international lawyers.

Crane said receiving an honorary degree is so very special. 

“My life, and all it is and has stood for, began here at Ohio University,” Crane said. “I learned the joy of learning; of standing up for what is right; to be a critical thinker; to become a leader and manager; and I learned the importance of lifelong friendships and, most importantly, the true meaning of love. A love that has lasted almost 45 years.”

Ohio University’s Spring Undergraduate Commencement ceremonies will take place at 9:30 a.m. and 2 p.m. Saturday, April 29, in the Convocation Center. More than 3,000 students are expected to participate in the ceremonies. Alumnus and Washington Post journalist Wes Lowery will serve as commencement speaker.

To purchase photos from the Graduate Commencement ceremony, visit