Update: Adding Will Ferrell, Ray Bradbury, Kermit the Frog
If you have ever sat at a commencement speech and listened to a speaker droning on and on and on and on and on, then you might appreciate the following excerpts from some of the funniest speeches ever delivered at a graduation.
Before I begin, I must point out that behind me sits a highly admired president of the United States and decorated war hero while I, a cable television talk show host, has been chosen to stand here and impart wisdom. I pray I never witness a more damning example of what is wrong with America today.
My first job as your commencement speaker is to illustrate that life is not fair. For example, you have worked tirelessly for four years to earn the diploma you’ll be receiving this weekend, and Dartmouth is giving me the same degree for interviewing the fourth lead in Twilight. Deal with it. Another example that life is not fair: if it does rain, the powerful rich people on stage get the tent. Deal with it....
I’ve done my research. This college was named after the Second Earl of Dartmouth, a good friend of the Third Earl of UC Santa Cruz and the Duke of the Barbazon School of Beauty.
Your school motto is “Vox Clamantis in Deserto,” which means “Voice Crying Out in the Wilderness.” This is easily the most pathetic school motto I have ever heard. Apparently, it narrowly beat out “Silently Weeping in Thick Shrub” and “Wimpering in Moist Leaves without Pants.”
Your school color is green, and this color was chosen by Frederick Mather in 1867 because, and this is true, ‘It was the only color that had not been taken already.’ I cannot remember hearing anything so sad.
Dartmouth, you have an inferiority complex, and you should not. You have graduated more great fictitious Americans than any other college. Meredith Grey of Grey’s Anatomy. Pete Campbell from Mad Men. Michael Corleone from The Godfather. In fact, I look forward to next years’ valedictory address by your esteemed classmate, Count Chocula.
Of course, your greatest fictitious graduate is Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner. Man, imagine if a real treasury secretary made those kinds of decisions. Oh, I know. You’re going to say, ‘We’ve got Dr. Seuss.’ Well guess what, we’re all tired of hearing about Dr. Seuss. Face it: The man rhymed fafloozle with saznoozle. In the literary community, that’s called cheating....
Harvard University, 2011 Commencement
Friends, Romans, countrymen: lend me your beers. I am honored that you chose me to help you celebrate your graduation today. I can only assume I am here today because of my subtle and layered work in a timeless classic entitled ‘Deuce Bigalow: Male Gigolo.’ And for that I say, you’re welcome. I’m truly, truly delighted to be here at Harvard . I graduated from Boston College. Which some call the Harvard of Boston. But we all know that Harvard is the Harvard of Harvard. And you can quote me on that....
What do I know about Harvard? I know it is the oldest American university. I know it provides the ultimate experience in higher learning and according to the movies, I know it is filled with people who get rich either by inventing things or suing the people who they claim stole their invention. Let me be clear. I believe everything I see in movies. And if you remember anything I say today, remember this. Every single thing you see in movies is real.
So, what do the fine students of 2011 need to hear from me? ... All I can tell you today is what I have learned. What I have discovered as a person in this world. And that is this: you can’t do it alone. As you navigate trough the rest of your life, be open to collaboration.....
University of Tennessee, 2009 Commencement
...Anyway, I know this is a big big da y for you. And I never dreamed, never ever ever dreamed that I would be a commencement speaker.
Now sing, yes I can do that.
No problem, but making speeches I’m a little nervous.
Nervous, because I know that I am suppose to say something meaningful to you. Maybe some good advice for you to always remember. Now I usually try not to give advice Information, yes, advice, no. But, what has worked for me may not work for you.
Well, take for instance what has worked for me.
Push up bras.
High heel shoes, five inch high heel shoes....
...Now people are always asking me, what do you want people to say about you a hundred years from now? I always say I want them to say say, ‘dang, don’t she still look good for her age.’
But all joking aside.
I think people will remember us for who we were, not how many records we sell, or how much money we make. Because I have always said that I have always counted my blessings far more often than I’ve counted my money....
Tulane University, 2009 Commencement
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.
Harvard University, 2008 Commencement
...The first thing I would like to say is ‘thank you.’ Not only has Harvard given me an extraordinary honor, but the weeks of fear and nausea I have endured at the thought of giving this commencement address have made me lose weight. A win-win situation! Now all I have to do is take deep breaths, squint at the red banners and convince myself that I am at the world’s largest Gryffindor reunion.
Delivering a commencement address is a great responsibility; or so I thought until I cast my mind back to my own graduation. The commencement speaker that day was the distinguished British philosopher Baroness Mary Warnock. Reflecting on her speech has helped me enormously in writing this one, because it turns out that I can’t remember a single word she said. This liberating discovery enables me to proceed without any fear that I might inadvertently influence you to abandon promising careers in business, the law or politics for the giddy delights of becoming a gay wizard.
You see? If all you remember in years to come is the ‘gay wizard’ joke, I’ve come out ahead of Baroness Mary Warnock. Achievable goals: the first step to self improvement....
Knox College, 2006 Commencement
....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....
College of William & Mary, 2004 Commencement
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.
University of Pennsylvania, 2004 Commencement
My name is Bono and I am a rock star. Don’t get me too excited because I use four letter words when I get excited. I’d just like to say to the parents, your children are safe, your country is safe, the FCC has taught me a lesson and the only four letter word I’m going to use today is P-E-N-N. Come to think of it ‘Bono’ is a four-letter word. The whole business of obscenity--I don’t think there’s anything certainly more unseemly than the sight of a rock star in academic robes. It’s a bit like when people put their King Charles spaniels in little tartan sweats and hats. It’s not natural, and it doesn’t make the dog any smarter....
It was at that point when your trustees decided to give me their highest honor. Doctor of Laws, wow! I know it’s an honor, and it really is an honor, but are you sure? Doctor of Law, all I can think about is the laws I’ve broken. Laws of nature, laws of physics, laws of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, and on a memorable night in the late seventies, I think it was Newton’s law of motion...sickness. No, it’s true, my resume reads like a rap sheet. I have to come clean; I’ve broken a lot of laws, and the ones I haven’t I’ve certainly thought about. I have sinned in thought, word, and deed. God forgive me. Actually God forgave me, but why would you? I’m here getting a doctorate, getting respectable, getting in the good graces of the powers that be, I hope it sends you students a powerful message: Crime does pay.
So I humbly accept the honor, keeping in mind the words of a British playwright, John Mortimer it was, “No brilliance is needed in the law. Nothing but common sense and relatively clean fingernails.” Well at best I’ve got one of the two of those....
Harvard University, 2003 Commencement
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...
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....
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…
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?!’....
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...”
[Speaking as former president George W. Bush:] The chances of finding a decent job are about as good as finding weapons of mass destruction in the Iraqi desert. Slim and none.
California Institute of Technology, 2000 Commencement
Along the way, I worked for the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C. They were putting on a planetarium show, with astronomy, of course. But, they were boring the hell out of people. They took me in to see the show, and within 10 minutes, everybody was asleep. You could hear snoring all over the planetarium. And they took me back to the office, and the head of the Smithsonian said to me, ‘What are we doing wrong?’ I said, ‘My God, do you know what you’re doing in there? You’re teaching with this planetarium, instead of preaching.’ A planetarium is a synagogue, a church, a basilica. It’s a place to celebrate the universe, and the incredible fact of our being alive in this world. I said, ‘Get out of the way with your scientific technology, and let me do a thing called the Great Shout of the Universe. The universe coming alive for all these mysterious reasons.’
So they hired me to write a new program for the planetarium. I did 32 pages on the incredible miracle of life on Earth, and the whole history of astronomy going back 2,000 years, and then 500 years into the future. I turned in the 32 pages, and they sent me 28 pages of criticism. I called them on the phone. I said, ‘What’s the problem?’ They said, ‘Well, this scientific thing is wrong-that scientific thing is wrong.’ I said, ‘You don’t understand, I’m the guy who invented an atmosphere on Mars. And Caltech invites me back all the time.’ I said, ‘You mustn’t teach, you must preach. And if you do a good job of preaching, people will go out and buy the book, or go to the library and borrow it, and learn all these wonderful things that you want them to learn. But in the meantime, let me shout.’
I said, ‘What’s the one thing that bothers you the most about my script?’ They said, ‘Well, you’ve got a thing in there about the Big Bang occurring 10 billion years ago.’ I said, ‘When did it occur?’ They said, ’12 billion years ago.’ I said, ‘Prove it.’ Well, that ruined it right there. The marriage was over. So after another two weeks of arguing with these people, I said, ‘You want to go back to boring people. I don’t want to bore people. I want to excite them!’
Because it’s wonderful to have one life, to be on this world — to have a chance to do the things that we want to do. I said, ‘How much do you owe me right now?’ And they said, ‘$15,000.’ I said, ‘Give me $7,000 and let me go, because this is a bad marriage!’ They gave me $7,000. I quit the project. I came out to Los Angeles....
Kermit the Frog
Southampton College, 1996 Commencement
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.
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.
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