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Old 02-13-2006, 04:58 PM   #1
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Better Harvard Commencement Speech Than Bono's? Mebbe

Commencement Speech to the Havard Class of 2000
by Conan O'Brien
I'd like to thank the Class Marshals for inviting me here today. The last time I was invited to Harvard it cost me $110,000, so you'll forgive me if I'm a bit suspicious. I'd like to announce up front that I have one goal this afternoon: to be half as funny as tomorrow's Commencement Speaker, Moral Philosopher and Economist, Amartya Sen. Must get more laughs than seminal wage/price theoretician.

Students of the Harvard Class of 2000, fifteen years ago I sat where you sit now and I thought exactly what you are now thinking: What's going to happen to me? Will I find my place in the world? Am I really graduating a virgin? I still have 24 hours and my roommate's Mom is hot. I swear she was checking me out. Being here today is very special for me. I miss this place. I especially miss Harvard Square - it's so unique. No where else in the world will you find a man with a turban wearing a Red Sox jacket and working in a lesbian bookstore. Hey, I'm just glad my dad's working.

It's particularly sweet for me to be here today because when I graduated, I wanted very badly to be a Class Day Speaker. Unfortunately, my speech was rejected. So, if you'll indulge me, I'd like to read a portion of that speech from fifteen years ago: "Fellow students, as we sit here today listening to that classic Ah-ha tune which will definitely stand the test of time, I would like to make several predictions about what the future will hold: "I believe that one day a simple Governor from a small Southern state will rise to the highest office in the land. He will lack political skill, but will lead on the sheer strength of his moral authority." "I believe that Justice will prevail and, one day, the Berlin Wall will crumble, uniting East and West Berlin forever under Communist rule." "I believe that one day, a high speed network of interconnected computers will spring up world-wide, so enriching people that they will lose their interest in idle chit chat and pornography." "And finally, I believe that one day I will have a television show on a major network, seen by millions of people a night, which I will use to re-enact crimes and help catch at-large criminals." And then there's some stuff about the death of Wall Street which I don't think we need to get into....

The point is that, although you see me as a celebrity, a member of the cultural elite, a kind of demigod, I was actually a student here once much like you. I came here in the fall of 1981 and lived in Holworthy. I was, without exaggeration, the ugliest picture in the Freshman Face book. When Harvard asked me for a picture the previous summer, I thought it was just for their records, so I literally jogged in the August heat to a passport photo office and sat for a morgue photo. To make matters worse, when the Face Book came out they put my picture next to Catherine Oxenberg, a stunning blonde actress who was accepted to the class of '85 but decided to defer admission so she could join the cast of "Dynasty." My photo would have looked bad on any page, but next to Catherine Oxenberg, I looked like a mackerel that had been in a car accident. You see, in those days I was six feet four inches tall and I weighed 150 pounds. Recently, I had some structural engineers run those numbers into a computer model and, according to the computer, I collapsed in 1987, killing hundreds in Taiwan.


After freshman year I moved to Mather House. Mather House, incidentally, was designed by the same firm that built Hitler's bunker. In fact, if Hitler had conducted the war from Mather House, he'd have shot himself a year earlier. 1985 seems like a long time ago now. When I had my Class Day, you students would have been seven years old. Seven years old. Do you know what that means? Back then I could have beaten any of you in a fight. And I mean bad. It would be no contest. If any one here has a time machine, seriously, let's get it on, I will whip your seven year old butt. When I was here, they sold diapers at the Coop that said "Harvard Class of 2000." At the time, it was kind of a joke, but now I realize you wore those diapers. How embarrassing for you. A lot has happened in fifteen years. When you think about it, we come from completely different worlds. When I graduated, we watched movies starring Tom Cruise and listened to music by Madonna. I come from a time when we huddled around our TV sets and watched "The Cosby Show" on NBC, never imagining that there would one day be a show called "Cosby" on CBS. In 1985 we drove cars with driver's side airbags, but if you told us that one day there'd be passenger side airbags, we'd have burned you for witchcraft.

But of course, I think there is some common ground between us. I remember well the great uncertainty of this day. Many of you are justifiably nervous about leaving the safe, comfortable world of Harvard Yard and hurling yourself headlong into the cold, harsh world of Harvard Grad School, a plum job at your father's firm, or a year abroad with a gold Amex card and then a plum job in your father's firm. But let me assure you that the knowledge you've gained here at Harvard is a precious gift that will never leave you. Take it from me, your education is yours to keep forever. Why, many of you have read the Merchant of Florence, and that will inspire you when you travel to the island of Spain. Your knowledge of that problem they had with those people in Russia, or that guy in South America-you know, that guy-will enrich you for the rest of your life.


There is also sadness today, a feeling of loss that you're leaving Harvard forever. Well, let me assure you that you never really leave Harvard. The Harvard Fundraising Committee will be on your ass until the day you die. Right now, a member of the Alumni Association is at the Mt. Auburn Cemetery shaking down the corpse of Henry Adams. They heard he had a brass toe ring and they aims to get it. Imagine: These people just raised 2.5 billion dollars and they only got through the B's in the alumni directory. Here's how it works. Your phone rings, usually after a big meal when you're tired and most vulnerable. A voice asks you for money. Knowing they just raised 2.5 billion dollars you ask, "What do you need it for?" Then there's a long pause and the voice on the other end of the line says, "We don't need it, we just want it." It's chilling.

What else can you expect? Let me see, by your applause, who here wrote a thesis. (APPLAUSE) A lot of hard work, a lot of your blood went into that thesis... and no one is ever going to care. I wrote a thesis: Literary Progeria in the works of Flannery O'Connor and William Faulkner. Let's just say that, during my discussions with Pauly Shore, it doesn't come up much. For three years after graduation I kept my thesis in the glove compartment of my car so I could show it to a policeman in case I was pulled over. (ACT OUT) License, registration, cultural exploration of the Man Child in the Sound and the Fury...

So what can you expect out there in the real world? Let me tell you. As you leave these gates and re-enter society, one thing is certain: Everyone out there is going to hate you. Never tell anyone in a roadside diner that you went to Harvard. In most situations the correct response to where did you to school is, "School? Why, I never had much in the way of book larnin' and such." Then, get in your BMW and get the hell out of there.

You see, you're in for a lifetime of "And you went to Harvard?" Accidentally give the wrong amount of change in a transaction and it's, "And you went to Harvard?" Ask the guy at the hardware store how these jumper cables work and hear, "And you went to Harvard?" Forget just once that your underwear goes inside your pants and it's "and you went to Harvard." Get your head stuck in your niece's dollhouse because you wanted to see what it was like to be a giant and it's "Uncle Conan, you went to Harvard!?"

But to really know what's in store for you after Harvard, I have to tell you what happened to me after graduation. I'm going to tell you my story because, first of all, my perspective may give many of you hope, and, secondly, it's an amazing rush to stand in front of six thousand people and talk about yourself.


After graduating in May, I moved to Los Angeles and got a three week contract at a small cable show. I got a $380 a month apartment and bought a 1977 Isuzu Opel, a car Isuzu only manufactured for a year because they found out that, technically, it's not a car. Here's a quick tip, graduates: no four cylinder vehicle should have a racing stripe. I worked at that show for over a year, feeling pretty good about myself, when one day they told me they were letting me go. I was fired and, I hadn't saved a lot of money. I tried to get another job in television but I couldn't find one.

So, with nowhere else to turn, I went to a temp agency and filled out a questionnaire. I made damn sure they knew I had been to Harvard and that I expected the very best treatment. And so, the next day, I was sent to the Santa Monica branch of Wilson's House of Suede and Leather. When you have a Harvard degree and you're working at Wilson's House of Suede and Leather, you are haunted by the ghostly images of your classmates who chose Graduate School. You see their faces everywhere: in coffee cups, in fish tanks, and they're always laughing at you as you stack suede shirts no man, in good conscience, would ever wear. I tried a lot of things during this period: acting in corporate infomercials, serving drinks in a non-equity theatre, I even took a job entertaining at a seven year olds' birthday party. In desperate need of work, I put together some sketches and scored a job at the fledgling Fox Network as a writer and performer for a new show called "The Wilton North Report." I was finally on a network and really excited. The producer told me the show was going to revolutionize television. And, in a way, it did. The show was so hated and did so badly that when, four weeks later, news of its cancellation was announced to the Fox affiliates, they burst into applause.

Eventually, though, I got a huge break. I had submitted, along with my writing partner, a batch of sketches to Saturday Night Live and, after a year and a half, they read it and gave us a two week tryout. The two weeks turned into two seasons and I felt successful. Successful enough to write a TV pilot for an original sitcom and, when the network decided to make it, I left Saturday Night Live. This TV show was going to be groundbreaking. It was going to resurrect the career of TV's Batman, Adam West. It was going to be a comedy without a laugh track or a studio audience. It was going to change all the rules. And here's what happened: When the pilot aired it was the second lowest-rated television show of all time. It's tied with a test pattern they show in Nova Scotia.


So, I was 28 and, once again, I had no job. I had good writing credits in New York, but I was filled with disappointment and didn't know what to do next. I started smelling suede on my fingertips. And that's when The Simpsons saved me. I got a job there and started writing episodes about Springfield getting a Monorail and Homer going to College. I was finally putting my Harvard education to good use, writing dialogue for a man who's so stupid that in one episode he forgot to make his own heart beat. Life was good.

And then, an insane, inexplicable opportunity came my way . A chance to audition for host of the new Late Night Show. I took the opportunity seriously but, at the same time, I had the relaxed confidence of someone who knew he had no real shot. I couldn't fear losing a great job I had never had. And, I think that attitude made the difference. I'll never forget being in the Simpson's recording basement that morning when the phone rang. It was for me. My car was blocking a fire lane. But a week later I got another call: I got the job.

So, this was undeniably the it: the truly life-altering break I had always dreamed of. And, I went to work. I gathered all my funny friends and poured all my years of comedy experience into building that show over the summer, gathering the talent and figuring out the sensibility. We debuted on September 13, 1993 and I was happy with our effort. I felt like I had seized the moment and put my very best foot forward. And this is what the most respected and widely read television critic, Tom Shales, wrote in the Washington Post: "O'Brien is a living collage of annoying nervous habits. He giggles and titters, jiggles about and fiddles with his cuffs. He had dark, beady little eyes like a rabbit. He's one of the whitest white men ever. O'Brien is a switch on the guest who won't leave: he's the host who should never have come. Let the Late show with Conan O'Brien become the late, Late Show and may the host return to Conan O'Blivion whence he came." There's more but it gets kind of mean.

Needless to say, I took a lot of criticism, some of it deserved, some of it excessive. And it hurt like you wouldn't believe. But I'm telling you all this for a reason. I've had a lot of success and I've had a lot of failure. I've looked good and I've looked bad. I've been praised and I've been criticized. But my mistakes have been necessary. Except for Wilson's House of Suede and Leather. That was just stupid.


I've dwelled on my failures today because, as graduates of Harvard, your biggest liability is your need to succeed. Your need to always find yourself on the sweet side of the bell curve. Because success is a lot like a bright, white tuxedo. You feel terrific when you get it, but then you're desperately afraid of getting it dirty, of spoiling it in any way.

I left the cocoon of Harvard, I left the cocoon of Saturday Night Live, I left the cocoon of The Simpsons. And each time it was bruising and tumultuous. And yet, every failure was freeing, and today I'm as nostalgic for the bad as I am for the good.

So, that's what I wish for all of you: the bad as well as the good. Fall down, make a mess, break something occasionally. And remember that the story is never over. If it's all right, I'd like to read a little something from just this year: "Somehow, Conan O'Brien has transformed himself into the brightest star in the Late Night firmament. His comedy is the gold standard and Conan himself is not only the quickest and most inventive wit of his generation, but quite possible the greatest host ever."

Ladies and Gentlemen, Class of 2000, I wrote that this morning, as proof that, when all else fails, there's always delusion.

I'll go now, to make bigger mistakes and to embarrass this fine institution even more. But let me leave you with one last thought: If you can laugh at yourself loud and hard every time you fall, people will think you're drunk.

Thank you.

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Old 02-13-2006, 05:02 PM   #2
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that was really good

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Old 02-13-2006, 05:17 PM   #3
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Old 02-13-2006, 09:30 PM   #4
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Bono's was very inspiring but Conan's is near perfect. Does anyone have any audio to this speech?
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Old 02-13-2006, 09:36 PM   #5
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That was great. How I love that Conan.
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Old 02-14-2006, 03:42 AM   #6
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check out Will Ferrells Harvard speech, hilarious stuff

there is video of it online if ya search for it
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Old 02-14-2006, 06:04 AM   #7
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Can someone please post Bono's speech?
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Old 02-14-2006, 07:50 AM   #8
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Jon Stewart did a fabulous one once too, it's probably online somewhere

Date of Speech: June 6, 2001

"Thank you for that introduction. But I suppose I should say a few more words about who I am and what on earth I'm doing up here.

My name is Bono.

My name is Bono, and I'm a rock star.

Now, I tell you this, not as a boast but as a kind of confession. Because in my view the only thing worse than a rock star is a rock star with a conscience -- a celebrity with a cause ... OH, DEAR!

Worse yet, is a singer with a conscience -- a placard-waving, knee-jerking, fellow-travelling activist with a Lexus, and a swimming pool shaped like his own head.

I'm a singer. You know what a singer is? Someone with a hole in his heart as big as his ego. When you need 20,000 people screaming your name in order to feel good about your day, you know you're a singer.

I am a singer and a songwriter but I am also a father, four times over. I am a friend to dogs. I am a sworn enemy of the saccharine; and a believer in grace over karma. I talk too much when I'm drunk and sometimes even when I'm not.

I am not drunk right now. These are not sunglasses, these are protection.

But I must tell you. I owe more than my spoiled lifestyle to rock music. I owe my worldview. Music was like an alarm clock for me as a teenager and still keeps me from falling asleep in the comfort of my freedom.

Rock music to me is rebel music. But rebelling against what? In the Fifties it was sexual mores and double standards. In the Sixties it was the Vietnam War and racial and social inequality. What are we rebelling against now?

If I am honest I'm rebelling against my own indifference. I am rebelling against the idea that the world is the way the world is and there's not a damned thing I can do about it. So I'm trying to do some damned thing.

But fighting my indifference is my own problem. What's your problem? What's the hole in your heart? I needed the noise, the applause. You needed the grades. Why are you here in Harvard Square?

Why do you have to listen to me? What have you given up to get here? Is success your drug of choice or are you driven by another curiosity? Your potential. The potential of a given situation. Is missing the moment unacceptable to you? Is wasting inspiration a crime? It is for a musician.

If this is where we find our lives rhyme. If this is our common ground, well, then I can be inspired as well as humbled to be on this great campus. Because that's where I come from. Music.

But I've seen the other side of music -- the Business. I've seen success as a drug of choice. I've seen great minds and prolific imaginations disappear up their own ass, strung out on their own self-importance. I'm one of them.

The misery of having it all your own way, the loneliness of sitting at a table where everyone works for you, the emptiness of arriving at Aspen on a Gulfstream to stay in your winter palace. Eh, sorry, different speech ....

You know what I'm talking about -- you've got to keep asking yourself why are you doing this? You've got to keep checking your motives.

Success for my group U2 has been a lot easier to conjure than, say ... relevance. RELEVANCE ... in the world, in the culture.

And of course, failure is not such a bad thing ... It's not a word that many of you know. I'm sure it's what you fear the most. But from an artist's point of view, failure is where you get your best material.

So fighting indifference versus making a difference. Let me tell you a few things you haven't heard about me, even on the Internet.

Let me tell you how I enrolled at Harvard and slept with an economics professor.

That's right -- I became a student at Harvard recently, and came to work with Professor Jeffrey Sachs at CID -- to study the lack of development in third-world economies due to the crushing weight of old debts those economies were carrying for generations.

It turns out that the normal rules of bankruptcy don't apply to sovereign states. Listen, it would be harder for you to get a student loan than it was for President Mobutu to stream billions of dollars into his Swiss bank account while his people starved on the side of the road. Two generations later, the Congolese are still paying. The debts of the fathers are now the debts of the sons and the daughters. So I was here representing a group that believed that all such debts should be cancelled in the year 2000. We called it Jubilee 2000. A fresh start for a new millennium.

It was headed up by Anne Pettifor, based out of London -- huge support from Africa. With Muhammad Ali, Sir Bob Geldof, and myself, acting at first just as mouthpieces. It was taking off. But we were way behind in the U.S.

We had the melody line, so to speak. But in order to get it on the radio over here, we needed a lot of help. My friend Bobby Shriver suggested I knock on the good professor's door. And a funny thing happened. Jeffrey Sachs not only let me into his office, he let me into his Rolodex, his head and his life for the last few years. So, in a sense, he let me into your life here at Harvard.

Then Sachs and I, with my friend Bobby Shriver, hit the road like some kind of surreal crossover act. A rock star, a Kennedy, and a Noted Economist criss-crossing the globe. Like the Partridge Family on psychotropic drugs. With the POPE acting as our ... well ... agent. And the blessing of various Rabbis, Evangelists, mothers, unions, trade unions and PTAs.

It was a new level of "unhip" for me, but it was really cool. It was in that capacity that I slept with Jeff Sachs, each of us in our own seat on an economy flight to somewhere, passed out like a couple of drunks from sheer exhaustion.

It was confusing for everyone -- I looked up with one eye to see your hero -- stubble in all the wrong places .... His tie looked more like a headband. An airhostess asked if he were a member of the Grateful Dead.

I have enormous respect for Jeff Sachs, but it's really true what they say. "Students shouldn't sleep with their professors ...".

While I'm handing out trade secrets, I also want to tell you that Larry Summers, your incoming President, the man whose signature is on every American dollar is a nutcase -- and a freak.

Look, U2 made it big out of Boston, not New York or L.A., so I thought if anyone would know about our existence it would be a Treasury Secretary from Harvard and M.I.T.. Alas, no. When I said I was from U2 he had a flashback from Cuba 1962.

How can I put this? And don't hold it against him -- Mr. Summers is, as former President Clinton confirmed to me last week in Dublin, "culturally challenged." But when I asked him to look up from "the numbers" to see what we were talking about, he did more than that. He did -- the hardest thing of all for an Economist -- he saw through the numbers.

And if it was hard for me to enlist Larry Summers in our efforts, imagine how hard it was for Larry Summers to get the rest of Washington to cough up the cash. To really make a difference for the third of the world that lives on less than a dollar a day.

He more than tried. He was passionate. He turned up in the offices of his adversaries. He turned up in restaurants with me to meet the concerns of his Republican counterparts. There is a posh restaurant in Washington they won't let us in now. Such was the heat of his debate -- blood on the walls, wine in the vinegar.

If you're called up before the new President of Harvard and he gives you the hairy eyeball, drums his fingers, and generally acts disinterested it could be the beginning of a great adventure.

It's a good thing that I got invited up here before President Rudenstine hands over the throne.

Well. It's at this point that I have to ask -- if your family don't do it first -- why am I telling you these stories? It's certainly not because I'm running for role model.

I'm telling you these stories because all that fun I had with Jeff Sachs and Larry Summers was in the service of something deadly serious. When people around the world heard about the burden of debt that crushes the poorest countries, when they heard that for every dollar of government aid we sent to developing nations, nine dollars came back in debt service payments, when they heard all that, people got angry.

They took to the streets -- in what was without doubt the largest grassroots movement since the campaign to end apartheid. Politics is, as you know, normally the art of the possible, but this was something more interesting. This was becoming the art of the impossible. We had priests going into pulpits, pop stars into parliaments. The Pope put on my sunglasses.

The religious right started acting like student protesters. And finally, after a floor fight in the House of Representatives, we got the money -- four three five million. That four three five -- which is starting to be a lot of money -- leveraged billions more from other rich countries.

So where does that money go? Well, so far, 23 of the poorest countries have managed to meet the sometimes over-stringent conditions to get their debt payments reduced -- and to spend the money on the people who need it most. In Uganda, twice as many kids are now going to school. That's good. In Mozambique, debt payments are down 42 percent, allowing health spending to increase by $14 million. That's good, too. $14 million goes a long way in Mozambique.

If I could tell you about one remarkable man in rural Uganda named Dr. Kabira. In 1999, measles -- a disease that's almost unheard of in the U.S. -- killed hundreds of kids in Dr. Kabira's district. Now, thanks to debt relief, he's got an additional $6,000 from the state, enough for him to employ two new nurses and buy two new bicycles so they can get around the district and immunize children. Last year, measles was a killer. This year, Dr. Kabira saw less than ten cases.

I just wanted you to know what we pulled off with the help of Harvard -- with the help of people like Jeffrey Sachs.

But I'm not here to brag, or to take credit, or even to share it. Why am I here? Well, again I think to just say "thanks." But also, I think I've come here to ask you for your help. This is a big problem. We need some smart people working on it. I think this will be the defining moment of our age. When the history books (that some of you will write) make a record of our times, this moment will be remembered for two things: the Internet. And the everyday holocaust that is Africa. Twenty five million HIV positives who will leave behind 40 million AIDS orphans by 2010. This is the biggest health threat since the Bubonic Plague wiped out a third of Europe.

It's an unsustainable problem for Africa. And, unless we hermetically seal the continent and close our conscience, it's an unsustainable problem for the world. But it's hard to make this a popular cause because it's hard to make it pop, you know? That, I guess, is what I'm trying to do. Pop is often the oxygen of politics.

Didn't John and Robert Kennedy come to Harvard? Isn't equality a son of a bitch to follow through on? Isn't "Love thy neighbour" in the global village so inconvenient? GOD writes us these lines but we have to sing them ... take them to the top of the charts, but it's not what the radio is playing -- is it? I know.

But we've got to follow through on our ideals or we betray something at the heart of who we are. Outside these gates, and even within them, the culture of idealism is under siege beset by materialism and narcissism and all the other "isms" of indifference. And their defense mechanism -- knowingness, the smirk, the joke. Worse still, it's a marketing tool. They've got Martin Luther King selling phones now. Have you seen that? Civil Rights in America and Europe are bound to human rights in the rest of the world. The right to live like a human. But these thoughts are expensive -- they're going to cost us. Are we ready to pay the price? Is America still a great idea as well as a great country?

When I was a kid in Dublin, I watched in awe as America put a man on the moon; and I thought, wow -- this is mad! Nothing is impossible in America! America, they can do anything over there! Nothing was impossible, only human nature, and it followed because it was led.

Is that still true? Tell me it's true. It is true isn't it? And if it isn't, you of all people can make it true again."
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Old 02-14-2006, 07:52 AM   #9
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Jon Stewart's at the College Of William And Mary

Date: May 20, 2004

Thank you Mr. President, I had forgotten how crushingly dull these ceremonies are. Thank you.

My best to the choir. I have to say, that song never grows old for me. Whenever I hear that song, it reminds me of nothing.

I am honored to be here, I do have a confession to make before we get going that I should explain very quickly. When I am not on television, this is actually how I dress. I apologize, but there’s something very freeing about it. I congratulate the students for being able to walk even a half a mile in this non-breathable fabric in the Williamsburg heat. I am sure the environment that now exists under your robes, are the same conditions that primordial life began on this earth.

I know there were some parents that were concerned about my speech here tonight, and I want to assure you that you will not hear any language that is not common at, say, a dock workers union meeting, or Tourrett’s convention, or profanity seminar. Rest assured.

I am honored to be here and to receive this honorary doctorate. When I think back to the people that have been in this position before me from Benjamin Franklin to Queen Noor of Jordan, I can’t help but wonder what has happened to this place. Seriously, it saddens me. As a person, I am honored to get it; as an alumnus, I have to say I believe we can do better. And I believe we should. But it has always been a dream of mine to receive a doctorate and to know that today, without putting in any effort, I will. It’s incredibly gratifying. Thank you. That’s very nice of you, I appreciate it.

I’m sure my fellow doctoral graduates—who have spent so long toiling in academia, sinking into debt, sacrificing God knows how many years of what, in truth, is a piece of parchment that in truth has been so devalued by our instant gratification culture as to have been rendered meaningless—will join in congratulating me. Thank you.

But today isn’t about how my presence here devalues this fine institution. It is about you, the graduates. I’m honored to be here to congratulate you today. Today is the day you enter into the real world, and I should give you a few pointers on what it is. It’s actually not that different from the environment here. The biggest difference is you will now be paying for things, and the real world is not surrounded by three-foot brick wall. And the real world is not a restoration. If you see people in the real world making bricks out of straw and water, those people are not colonial re-enactors—they are poor. Help them. And in the real world, there is not as much candle lighting. I don’t really know what it is about this campus and candle lighting, but I wish it would stop. We only have so much wax, people.

Lets talk about the real world for a moment. We had been discussing it earlier, and I…I wanted to bring this up to you earlier about the real world, and this is I guess as good a time as any. I don’t really know to put this, so I’ll be blunt. We broke it.

Please don’t be mad. I know we were supposed to bequeath to the next generation a world better than the one we were handed. So, sorry.

I don’t know if you’ve been following the news lately, but it just kinda got away from us. Somewhere between the gold rush of easy internet profits and an arrogant sense of endless empire, we heard kind of a pinging noise, and uh, then the damn thing just died on us. So I apologize.

But here’s the good news. You fix this thing, you’re the next greatest generation, people. You do this—and I believe you can—you win this war on terror, and Tom Brokaw’s kissing your ass from here to Tikrit, let me tell ya. And even if you don’t, you’re not gonna have much trouble surpassing my generation. If you end up getting your picture taken next to a naked guy pile of enemy prisoners and don’t give the thumbs up you’ve outdid us.

We declared war on terror. We declared war on terror—it’s not even a noun, so, good luck. After we defeat it, I’m sure we’ll take on that bastard ennui.

But obviously that’s the world. What about your lives? What piece of wisdom can I impart to you about my journey that will somehow ease your transition from college back to your parents' basement?

I know some of you are nostalgic today and filled with excitement and perhaps uncertainty at what the future holds. I know six of you are trying to figure out how to make a bong out of your caps. I believe you are members of Psi U. Hey that did work, thank you for the reference.

So I thought I’d talk a little bit about my experience here at William and Mary. It was very long ago, and if you had been to William and Mary while I was here and found out that I would be the commencement speaker 20 years later, you would be somewhat surprised, and probably somewhat angry. I came to William and Mary because as a Jewish person I wanted to explore the rich tapestry of Judaica that is Southern Virginia. Imagine my surprise when I realized “The Tribe” was not what I thought it meant.

In 1980 I was 17 years old. When I moved to Williamsburg, my hall was in the basement of Yates, which combined the cheerfulness of a bomb shelter with the prison-like comfort of the group shower. As a freshman I was quite a catch. Less than five feet tall, yet my head is the same size it is now. Didn’t even really look like a head, it looked more like a container for a head. I looked like a Peanuts character. Peanuts characters had terrible acne. But what I lacked in looks I made up for with a repugnant personality.

In 1981 I lost my virginity, only to gain it back again on appeal in 1983. You could say that my one saving grace was academics where I excelled, but I did not.

And yet now I live in the rarified air of celebrity, of mega stardom. My life a series of Hollywood orgies and Kabala center brunches with the cast of Friends. At least that’s what my handlers tell me. I’m actually too valuable to live my own life and spend most of my days in a vegetable crisper to remain fake news anchor fresh.

So I know that the decisions that I made after college worked out. But at the time I didn’t know that they would. See college is not necessarily predictive of your future success. And it’s the kind of thing where the path that I chose obviously wouldn’t work for you. For one, you’re not very funny.

So how do you know what is the right path to choose to get the result that you desire? And the honest answer is this. You won’t. And accepting that greatly eases the anxiety of your life experience.

I was not exceptional here, and am not now. I was mediocre here. And I’m not saying aim low. Not everybody can wander around in an alcoholic haze and then at 40 just, you know, decide to be president. You’ve got to really work hard to try to…I was actually referring to my father.

When I left William and Mary I was shell-shocked. Because when you’re in college it’s very clear what you have to do to succeed. And I imagine here everybody knows exactly the number of credits they needed to graduate, where they had to buckle down, which introductory psychology class would pad out the schedule. You knew what you had to do to get to this college and to graduate from it. But the unfortunate, yet truly exciting thing about your life, is that there is no core curriculum. The entire place is an elective. The paths are infinite and the results uncertain. And it can be maddening to those that go here, especially here, because your strength has always been achievement. So if there’s any real advice I can give you it’s this.

College is something you complete. Life is something you experience. So don’t worry about your grade, or the results or success. Success is defined in myriad ways, and you will find it, and people will no longer be grading you, but it will come from your own internal sense of decency which I imagine, after going through the program here, is quite strong…although I’m sure downloading illegal files…but, nah, that’s a different story.

Love what you do. Get good at it. Competence is a rare commodity in this day and age. And let the chips fall where they may.

And the last thing I want to address is the idea that somehow this new generation is not as prepared for the sacrifice and the tenacity that will be needed in the difficult times ahead. I have not found this generation to be cynical or apathetic or selfish. They are as strong and as decent as any people that I have met. And I will say this, on my way down here I stopped at Bethesda Naval, and when you talk to the young kids that are there that have just been back from Iraq and Afghanistan, you don’t have the worry about the future that you hear from so many that are not a part of this generation but judging it from above.

And the other thing….that I will say is, when I spoke earlier about the world being broke, I was somewhat being facetious, because every generation has their challenge. And things change rapidly, and life gets better in an instant.

I was in New York on 9-11 when the towers came down. I lived 14 blocks from the twin towers. And when they came down, I thought that the world had ended. And I remember walking around in a daze for weeks. And Mayor Giuliani had said to the city, “You’ve got to get back to normal. We’ve got to show that things can change and get back to what they were.”

And one day I was coming out of my building, and on my stoop, was a man who was crouched over, and he appeared to be in deep thought. And as I got closer to him I realized, he was playing with himself. And that’s when I thought, “You know what, we’re gonna be OK.”

Thank you. Congratulations. I honor you. Good Night.
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Old 02-14-2006, 11:12 AM   #10
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I Conan's speech. It never fails to crack me up.

This is one of my favorite quotes from the speech:

I've had a lot of success and I've had a lot of failure. I've looked good and I've looked bad. I've been praised and I've been criticized. But my mistakes have been necessary.
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Old 02-14-2006, 11:17 AM   #11
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Originally posted by Chizip
check out Will Ferrells Harvard speech, hilarious stuff
352nd Harvard Commencement
Thursday, June 5, 2003

Class Day speech
June 4, 2003
Will Ferrell
This is not the Worcester, Mass Boat Show, is it? I am sorry. I have made a terrible mistake. Ever since I left "Saturday Night Live," I mostly do public speaking now. And I must have made an error in the little Palm Pilot. Boy. Don't worry. I got it on me. I got the speech on me. Let's see. Ah, yes. Here we go.

You know, when Bill Gates first called me to speak to you today, I was honored. But when he wanted me to be one of the Roxbury guys, I -- Sorry, that's Microsoft. I'm sorry about that. Star Trek Convention. No. NRA. NAACP. Dow Chemical. No. But that is a good one. That is a good speech. The University of Michigan Law. Johns Hopkins Medical School. I'm sorry. Are you sure this is not the boat show? No, I have it. I do have it on me. I do. It's here. Thank you.

Ladies and Gentlemen, Distinguished Faculty, Administrators, Friends and Family and, of course, the graduating Class of 2003, I wish to say hello and thank you for bestowing this honor upon me as your Class Day speaker. After months of secret negotiations, several hundred secret ballots, and a weekend retreat with Vice President Dick Cheney in his secret mountain bunker, a Class Day speaker was chosen, and it was me. You obviously have made a grave error. But it's too late now. So let's just go with it.

Today's speech is going to be a little different, a little unorthodox. Some of you may find it to be shocking. I'm not going to stand up here and try to be funny. Because even though I am a professional comedian of the highest caliber, I've decided to do one thing that a lot of people are probably afraid to do, and that's give it to you straight.

As most of you are probably aware, I didn't graduate from Harvard. In fact, I never even got a call back from Admissions. Damn you, Harvard! Damn you! I told myself I would not get emotional today. But damn it, I'm here, and sometimes it's just good to cry.

I'm not one of you. Okay? I can't relate to who you are and what you've been through. I graduated from the University of Life. All right? I received a degree from the School of Hard Knocks. And our colors were black and blue, baby. I had office hours with the Dean of Bloody Noses. All right? I borrowed my class notes from Professor Knuckle Sandwich and his Teaching Assistant, Ms. Fat Lip Thon Nyun. That's the kind of school I went to for real, okay?

So my gift to you, Class of 2003, is to tell you about the real world through my eyes, through my experiences. And I'm sorry, but I refuse to sugarcoat it. I ain't gonna do it. And I probably shouldn't use the word "ain't" during this day in which we celebrate education. But that's just the way I play it, Homes.

Graduates, if you will indulge me for a moment, let me paint a picture of what it's like out there. The last four or, for some of you, five years you've been living in a fantasyland, running around, talking about Hemingway, or Clancy, or, I don't know, I mean whatever you read here at Harvard. The Novelization of the Matrix, I don't know. I don't know what you do here.

But I do know this. You're about to enter into a world filled with hypocrisy and doublespeak, a world in which your limo to the airport is often a half-hour late. In addition to not even being a limo at all; often times it's a Lincoln Towncar. You're about to enter a world where you ask your new assistant, Jamie, to bring you a tall, non-fat latte. And he comes back with a short soy cappuccino. Guess what, Jamie? You're fired. Not too hard to get right, my friend.

A world where your acting coach, Bob Leslie-Duncan -- yes, the Bob Leslie-Duncan -- tells you time and time again that you will never, ever be considered as a dramatic actor because you don't play things real, and are too over the top. Amazing! Simply amazing!

I'm sorry, graduates. But this is a world where you aren't allowed to use your cell phone in airplanes, during live theater, at the movies, at funerals, or even during your own elective surgery. Apparently, the Berlin Wall went back up because we now live in Russia. I mean just try lighting up a cigar in a movie theater or paying for a dinner for 20 friends with an autograph. It ain't that easy. Strong words, I know. Tough talk. But more like tough love. Because this is where my faith in you guys comes into play, Harvard University's graduating Class of 2003, without a doubt, the finest, most talented group of sexual beings this great land has to offer.

Now I know I blew some of your minds with my depiction of what it's really like out there. But if anyone can handle the ups and downs of this crazy blue marble we call Planet Earth, it's you guys. As I stare out into this vast sea of shining faces, I see the best and brightest. Some of you will be captains of industry and business. Others of you will go on to great careers in medicine, law and public service. Four of you -- and I'm not at liberty to say which four -- will go on to magnificent careers in the porno industry. I'm not trying to be funny. That's just a statistical fact.

One of you, specifically John Lee, will spend most of your time just hanging out in your car eating nachos. You will all come back from time to time to this beautiful campus for reunions, and ask the question, "Does anyone ever know what happened to John Lee?" At that point, he will invariably pop out from the bushes and yell, "Nachos anyone?!" At first, it will scare the crap out of you. But then you'll share a laugh with your classmates and ultimately look forward to John jumping out of the bushes as a yearly event.

I'd like to change gears here, if I could. Talk a little bit about "Saturday Night Live." Now, during my 18-year stint on the show, I had the chance to play or impersonate some very interesting people, none more interesting than our current President, Mr. George W. Bush. Now in some cases, you actually have contact with some of the people you play. As a byproduct of this former situation, the President and myself have become quite good friends. In fact, I might even call him a father figure of sorts, granted a dim-witted father figure who likes to take a lot of naps and start wars, but a father figure nonetheless.

When I told the President that I'd be speaking here today, he wondered if I would express some sentiments to you. And I said I'd do my best. So, if you don't mind, I'd like to read this message from the President of the United States.

Students, Faculty, Families and Distinguished Guests, I just want to take time to congratulate you on your outstanding achievement as graduates of the Class of 2002. The great thing about being the Class of 2002 is that you can always remember what year you graduated because 2002 is a palindrome which, of course, is a word or number that is the same read backwards or forwards. I'll bet you're surprised I know that word, but I do. So you can suck on it.

Make no mistake, Harvard University is one of the finest in the land. And its graduates are that fine as well. You're young men and women whose exuberance exude a confident confidence of a bygone era. I believe it was Shakespeare who said it best when he said, "Look yonder into the darkness for knowledge onto which I say go onto that which thou possess into thy night for thee have come with only a single sword and vanquished thee into darkness."

I'm going to be honest with you, I just made that up. But I don't know how to delete it from the computer. Tomorrow's graduation day speaker is former President of Mexico Ernesto Zedillo. Ernie's a good man, a deeply religious man, and one of the original members of the Latino boy band Menudo. So listen up to Ernie. He was at the beginning of the whole boy band explosion.

As you set off into the world, don't be afraid to question your leaders. But don't ask too many questions at one time or that are too hard because your leaders get tired and/or cranky. All of you sitting here have the brightest of futures ahead. Many of you will go on to stellar careers and various pursuits. And four of you -- and I'm not at liberty to say which four -- will go on to star in the porno industry.

One of the challenges you will be faced with is finding a job in our depressed economy. In fact, the chances of landing a decent job are about as good as finding weapons of mass destruction in the Iraqi desert. Slim and none. And Slim just left the building. In fact, the closest thing I found to looking like a weapon of mass destruction is the turd that Dick Cheney left in the Oval Office toilet about an hour ago. Man, that thing is a WMD if I've ever seen one. On that note, God bless and happy graduation.

You know, I sincerely hope you enjoy this next chapter of your life because it's really going to be great, as long as you pay your taxes. And don't just take a year off because you think Uncle Sam is snoozing at the wheel because he will descend upon you like a hawk from hell. Let's just put it this way. After some past indiscretions with the IRS, my take-home pay last year was $9,000.

I figured I'd leave you today with a song, if you will. So, Jeff, if you could come up here. Jeff Heck, everyone. Please welcome one of your fellow graduates. Jeff is, of course, from Eliot House. You know what you guys? You guys at Eliot House, give yourselves a nice round of applause because you had the head lice scare this year, and it shut you down for most of last semester. But you didn't mind the tents they set up for you, and you were just troopers. You really were.

Anyway, here's a song that I think really captures the essence of the Harvard experience. It goes a little like this.

I close my eyes, only for a moment, and the moment's gone,
All my dreams, pass before my eyes, a curiosity.
Dust in the wind, all they are is dust in the wind.
Same old song, just a drop of water in an endless sea,
All we do, crumbles to the ground, though we refuse to see.
Dust in the wind, all we are is dust in the wind.

Okay, you know what? I'm just realizing that this is a terrible graduation song. Once again, I'm sorry. This is the first time I've actually listened to the lyrics. Man, it's a downer. It's bleak.

Boy, I want to finish this. Just give me a minute, and let me figure out how to fix this thing. Okay. I think I got it.

Now don't hang on, nothing lasts forever but the Harvard alumni endowment fund.
It adds up, has performed at 22 percent growth over the last six years.
Dust in the wind, you're so much more than dust in the wind.
Dust in the wind, you're shiny little very smart pieces of dust in the wind.

Thank you. Good luck. And have a great day tomorrow.
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Old 02-14-2006, 03:23 PM   #12
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thanks for these! =)
really made my day.
the will ferrell video is HILARIOUS. you can find it on yahoo videos. when he finishes his speech, the distinguished Harvard students up on the stage are all presenting him with gifts to show their thanks, and this girl gives him a harvard shirt, and he goes "thanks, thanks" and then throws it on the ground. LOLLL. and then after that, they made him do a Frank the Tank ;]
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Old 02-14-2006, 10:58 PM   #13
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Now I know I wasn't the first choice to speak here this afternoon. I know this because the Crimson article announcing I'd be the class day speaker made a point of underscoring that fact many times. Allow me to quote from the front page of the Harvard Crimson of April 16th:

"Author and comedian Al Franken '73 will offer words of wisdom to graduating seniors on Class Day senior class marshals announced yesterday...Last year rock superstar Bono spoke to an audience ofabout 30,000--and some students hoped for a non-Harvard celebrity this year as well. "I'm disappointed it's not Madonna," said Dorothy Fortenberry '02. The list of favored candidates included Madonna, as well as Denzel Washington, Halle Berry, Robert DeNiro, Chris Rock, Jerry Seinfeld, and former New York City mayor Rudolf Guiliani. Franken was not on the initial list of candidates, but members of the Class Day Committee said he was not a last resort. "We went into this realizing that most people on the list are extremely busy and have hectic schedules," said Chad G. Callahan, '02, first class vice president."

So, yes, I was available. Actually, I had to reschedule an audition for a voice over for a hemorrhoid commercial, but it's not really worth getting into.

And I must say it's a little intimidating following Bono. In order to feel less intimidated, I'm simply telling myself that last year's speaker was Sonny Bono.

You know I didn't know Bono's Harvard Class Day Speech drew 30,000 people. That's crazy! LOL at Franken.

I wish a video of Conan's speech was online b/c the Ferrell one was pretty funny.

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