Five hysterical commencement speeches

Every year commencement speakers drone on and on, usually boring the daylights out of their audience. As the 2013 commencement season gets underway, here are some of the funnier addresses that have withstood the test of time.

 

Jon Stewart
College of William & Mary, 2004

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

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….

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….

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.

 

Ellen DeGeneres
Tulane University, 2009

When I was asked to make the commencement speech, I immediately said yes. Then I went to look up what commencement meant…. I thought that you had to be a famous alumnus, alumini, aluminum, alumis — you had to graduate from this school. And I didn’t go to college here, and I don’t know if President Cowan knows, I didn’t go to any college at all. Any college. And I’m not saying you wasted your time, or money, but look at me, I’m a huge celebrity….

I’m here because of you. Because I can’t think of a more tenacious, more courageous graduating class. I mean, look at you all, wearing your robes. Usually when you’re wearing a robe at 10 in the morning, it means you’ve given up.

I’m here because I love New Orleans. I was born and raised here, I spent my formative years here, and like you, while I was living here I only did laundry six times. When I finished school, I was completely lost. And by school, I mean middle school, but I went ahead and finished high school anyway.

And I — I really, I had no ambition, I didn’t know what I wanted to do. I did everything from — I shucked oysters, I was a hostess, I was a bartender, I was a waitress, I painted houses, I sold vacuum cleaners, I had no idea. And I thought I’d just finally settle in some job, and I would make enough money to pay my rent, maybe have basic cable, maybe not, I didn’t really have a plan, my point is that, by the time I was your age, I really thought I knew who I was, but I had no idea. Like for example, when I was your age, I was dating men. So what I’m saying is, when you’re older, most of you will be gay. Anyone writing this stuff down? Parents?….

…As you grow, you’ll realize the definition of success changes. For many of you, today, success is being able to hold down 20 shots of tequila. For me, the most important thing in your life is to live your life with integrity, and not to give into peer pressure….

 

Kermit the Frog
Southampton College, 1996

Congratulations to all of you graduates. As we say in the wetlands, “Ribbit-ribbit-kneedeep-ribbit,” which means “May success and a smile always be yours… even when you’re kneedeep in the sticky muck of life.” Now, I know that there are some people out there who wonder what brought me here today.

…Was it the incoming tide on Shinnecock Bay?

…Was it the all-you-can-eat midnight buffet aboard the Paumanok?

…Or was it the promise that I’d get to play basketball with Sidney Green and the Runnin’ Colonials? Don’t let my spindly little arms fool you. I can slam dunk one mean basketball….

First, of course, I want to thank you for bestowing upon me this Honorary Doctorate of Amphibious Letters. To tell you the truth, I never even knew there was such a thing as “Amphibious” Letters. After all those years on Sesame Street, you’d think I’d know my alphabet. It just goes to show that you can teach an old frog new tricks.

It’s great to have an honorary doctorate. I have spoken with my fellow honorees — Professor Merton, Ms. Meaker, Mr. Gambling — and as honorary doctors we promise to have regular office hours, put new magazines in our waiting room, and to make late night house calls regardless of your health plan coverage. On behalf of all of us, thank you sincerely.

But I’m also here at Southampton to thank you for something even more important. I am here to thank you for the great work that you have done — and for the great work that you will be doing with your lives. You have dedicated yourselves to preserving the beauty that is all around us. While some might look out at this great ocean and just see a magnificent view, you and I know that this ocean — and every ecosystem — is home to an indefinable number of my fellow animals.

As you go out into the world, never lose sight of the fact that you are not just saving the environment, you are saving the homes and lives of so many of my relatives.

 

Steven Colbert
Knox College, 2006

….When you enter the workforce, you will find competition from those crossing our all-too-porous borders. Now I know you’re all going to say, ’Stephen, Stephen, immigrants built America.’ Yes, but here’s the thing — it’s built now. I think it was finished in the mid-70s sometime. At this point it’s a touch-up and repair job. But thankfully Congress is acting and soon English will be the official language of America. Because if we surrender the national anthem to Spanish, the next thing you know, they’ll be translating the Bible. God wrote it in English for a reason! So it could be taught in our public schools.

So we must build walls. A wall obviously across the entire southern border. That’s the answer. That may not be enough— maybe a moat in front of it, or a fire-pit. Maybe a flaming moat, filled with fire-proof crocodiles. And we should probably wall off the northern border as well. Keep those Canadians with their socialized medicine and their skunky beer out. And because immigrants can swim, we’ll probably want to wall off the coasts as well. And while we’re at it, we need to put up a dome, in case they have catapults. And we’ll punch some holes in it so we can breathe. Breathe free. It’s time for illegal immigrants to go — right after they finish building those walls. Yes, yes, I agree with me.

There are so many challenges facing this next generation, and as they said earlier, you are up for these challenges. And I agree, except that I don’t think you are. I don’t know if you’re tough enough to handle this. You are the most cuddled generation in history. I belong to the last generation that did not have to be in a car seat. You had to be in car seats. I did not have to wear a helmet when I rode my bike. You do. You have to wear helmets when you go swimming, right? In case you bump your head against the side of the pool. Oh, by the way, I should have said, my speech today may contain some peanut products….

 

 

 


Will Ferrell
Harvard University, 2003

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. John Hopkins Medical School. I’m sorry. Are you sure this isn’t the boat show? No, I have it. I don’t have it on me. I do. It’s here. Thank you….
I graduated from the University of Life. I received a degree from the School of Hard Knocks, and our colors were black and blue, baby. We had office hours with the Dean of Bloody Noses. I borrowed my class notes from Professor Knuckle Sandwich and his Teaching Assistant, Miss Fat Lip Fong Ngyuen. That’s the kind of school I went to, for real…

 

 

This is the first part; the second and third parts are here and here.

Valerie Strauss covers education and runs The Answer Sheet blog.
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Valerie Strauss · May 12, 2013