Interview: Why Christopher Pan doesn’t regret giving the 'worst Ohio State commencement speech ever'


“Graduation speaker booed by entire stadium,” “Cringe-worthy speech peddling Bitcoin” and “The worst Ohio State commencement speech ever.” These are just a few headlines written about the speech given by Christopher Pan, a social entrepreneur, during the 2024 Ohio State University (OSU) commencement ceremony.

But the 1999 OSU alumnus wouldn’t change his speech nor message if given the opportunity to go back in time. “I don't have any regrets because I did what I believe is right,” Pan tells NextShark.

Pan, the founder of service project company, delivered a keynote address to more than 12,000 students and their families on May 5 at the Ohio Stadium in Columbus. As the son of Chinese immigrants and grandson of refugees, he has dedicated his life to community-building efforts, particularly focusing on emotional and spiritual wellness. He says his challenging upbringing as an Asian American who struggled to fit in has fueled his passion for this work. With professional experience at PepsiCo and Facebook, his journey into social entrepreneurship was motivated by a desire to go beyond conventional success and address what he believes the world needs more of: healers.

Pan was selected as the 2024 commencement speaker because the university wanted to highlight the achievements of an alum who had made substantial contributions to the OSU community. With his involvement in speaking engagements and recognition in the alumni magazine, Pan emerged as the top choice. He remembers being told by a senior vice president of the university: “Our community needs your inspiration more than ever. Thank you for modeling compassion, integrity and truly what it means to be a buckeye.”

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In his roughly 17-minute speech, Pan centered his message on attaining freedom in financial, emotional and spiritual realms. He prompted audience participation by leading a singing exercise of the 4 Non Blondes’ 1993 hit single "What's Up" and guiding them through a breathing exercise purportedly utilized by Navy SEALs. However, his message that Bitcoin could potentially grant students "financial freedom" — advice that was accompanied by a magic trick involving the university president — elicited boos from the crowd. Pan concluded with another group sing-along to “This Little Light of Mine” and emphasized the importance of healing global divisions.

To say the least, the commencement address was characterized by unusual moments. On LinkedIn, Pan disclosed that he sought “help from AI (Ayahuasca Intelligence)” to compose his speech, seeking to convey a heartfelt message during difficult times. His unconventional approach and advocacy for cryptocurrency stirred mixed reactions and generated widespread media coverage in the past month.

“I don't take it personally. I know my intentions were to be helpful and to leave them with actionable advice,” Pan says. “I think what's different about what I did versus the average commencement speech is… I think the majority of commencement speeches feel good in the moment and then they're kind of forgotten about. I didn't want that. I wanted to actually have an impact. I wanted to actually leave people with actionable advice that they could use. I think a lot of people are not used to it. But for me, it just means that I pushed the envelope. And anytime you push the envelope, there are going to be people who will not get it right away, and that's OK.”

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Pan attributes the backlash against his speech to an article by The Rooster titled “Inside the worst Ohio State commencement speech ever.” He claims that its writer and editor “had not done their homework,” contributing to a culture of contempt exacerbated by social media echo chambers. He says he spoke to both, who allegedly admitted to fabricating details. He believes the article ignited the negative commentary surrounding his speech across social media.

“It's interesting, because most of the headlines talk about either psychedelics or drugs, and then they talk about Bitcoin, right? And it's interesting that that ends up being the fuel to get the attention, because people don't understand these two things,” Pan points out. “They're just like cheap shots, you know. It's easy to be the critic, and it's easy to just write a headline, but no one's actually doing the real research. At OSU, there's a handful of research centers doing ayahuasca research, and it's just people don't understand that, but I'm gonna do a lot of educating to help people understand what this stuff really is.”

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Pan responds to criticism labeling him as an "idiot," a "disgrace" and an "embarrassment" by attributing it to misunderstandings, lack of knowledge about Bitcoin and ayahuasca and underlying societal issues and personal biases.

“I think what people experience on the inside is how they view the world,” he says. “So like, if you are pretty negative on the inside, then I think you view everything with negativity. If you've been scammed before, then you view everything as a scam. I think it's a reflection of what they're feeling inside. Maybe they're angry at the world, maybe they're not happy about certain things, and they're taking it out on my speech.”

Pan shares his desire to shift the conversation toward understanding how society has arrived at a “closed-minded, disrespectful state.” He says his remarks on Bitcoin were intended to foster open-mindedness and comprehension, rather than advocating for its purchase. He criticizes the negative reaction he has received, highlighting the expectation that a college education should instill skills such as listening, embracing diverse perspectives and engaging in civil discourse. He also questions whether universities are effectively imparting these essential skills, stressing the need for reflection on education's role in fostering a harmonious world. And although he reiterates that he harbors no animosity toward his critics, he believes that vital skills may be missing in the current educational framework.

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Following the widespread attention garnered by his speech, Pan says that he has also received numerous messages praising his originality and altruistic intentions to help the recent graduates. He noted that his speech has been translated into various languages, including Korean, Chinese and Portuguese. Pan believes this signifies its global reach and impact as a “global wake-up call” rather than the usual “follow-your-heart speech.”

“There's real economic slavery happening,” Pan says. “I think people are emotionally repressed and spiritually disconnected. These are real issues. My mission is to be a catalyst for meaningful conversations and positive action. So I wanted to have a meaningful conversation about the fact that housing is unaffordable right now and that our savings are going to sh*t if you don't invest.”


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Pan believes that like meditation and yoga — once niche practices that are now mainstream — Bitcoin, ayahuasca and, according to him, group singing, will gain wider acceptance over time. Despite all the backlash, he remains committed to helping people understand and embrace these new ideas, confident that they will be widely adopted in the future. But while topics such as ayahuasca and Bitcoin were attention-grabbers, he says his core message is about overcoming hate and spreading love.

Moving forward, Pan plans to establish a nonprofit organization focused on educating people about psychedelics, financial literacy, emotional wellness through singing and intention setting and spiritual connection. He says he aims to invest at least a million dollars over the next five to 10 years in these initiatives. The entrepreneur is particularly interested in engaging with the Asian American community, addressing mental health and promoting leadership. He hopes to help more Asians overcome trauma and embrace new ideas.

“This is just the beginning of a conversation,” he says. “The speech is just the tip of the iceberg. I have a much bigger message for the world.”


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