08/22/2012 12:04 pm ET Updated Oct 22, 2012

A Marvelous Balance

Earlier this month, 12 Ohio State athletes competed at the Summer Games in London. These students -- from Ohio and California to Honduras and Bulgaria -- joined more than 10,000 athletes of nearly every creed, country, and culture.

Even as the world feted the grace and grit of these remarkable athletes, at home we bore witness to an act of fatal intolerance and hatred in a Sikh temple near Milwaukee.

It is difficult to reconcile these concurrent events -- although the human condition repeatedly asks us to do so. "Evermore in the world is this marvelous balance of beauty and disgust, magnificence and rats." So says Emerson.

It is not the first time that an Olympian moment recalls both the triumph and the torment of the human spirit. We need only remember the tragedy at the 1972 Olympics, the bombing at the 1996 Olympics in Atlanta, or the legacy of the great Ohio State Olympian, Jesse Owens, whose courage and brilliance outshone even the most prodigious persecution.

Indeed, Jesse Owens continues to be a beacon for justice on our campus, in Ohio, and across the nation. Just yesterday, I learned that he has been selected for induction into the Ohio Civil Rights Hall of Fame.

Last spring, on our own University campus in Columbus, we experienced an act of hate speech at the Hale Black Cultural Center. In the days following, I was deeply grateful and impressed by the myriad ways our students, faculty, staff, alumni, and community members stepped up and spoke out.

One moment, in particular, stands out to me.

On April 5, the morning after the hate speech was discovered, a group of students formed a single-file line and walked across campus to our regularly scheduled Board of Trustees meeting. In the most civil and reasonable manner, these students presented their requests for meaningful and clear ways to raise awareness and support inclusion on our campus.

Having served as a university president for more than three decades, I will say that never before had I seen a more constructive, positive, and forward-thinking response to something that could all-too-easily divide a campus community.

More recently, our students once again took a stand against hatred and injustice. Within days of the shooting in the Sikh temple in Wisconsin, our South Asian Student Organization circulated a petition letter and organized an event on campus to convey condolences and show support to the Sikh community.

It is in these moments that I am more convinced than ever that it is our students and younger generation who will lead us forward.

On this very first week of Autumn Semester at our University, I am filled, once again, with an inordinate measure of hope and optimism. As the 7,000 members of our new incoming class converge upon our campus, I am in awe of their spirit, exuberance, perspective, and promise.

These students remind me that each of us has the power to change the world, if only we choose to embrace it. Through their voice and vision, they teach us every day as surely as we teach them.