If one is forced to leave the comforts of college for a world that’s quite literally on fire, it’s nice to at least do so with a few laughs. Let’s give thanks, then, to Conan O’Brien and John Waters, two cultural treasures who both recently gave some excellent commencement speeches to 2020 graduates.
O’Brien spoke to Harvard’s graduating class from his backyard, dropping joke after joke before acknowledging the hardships of their generation. Speaking of how the students grew up in the shadow of 9/11, he says, “You’ve only known a world beset by terrorist hate. You’ve grown up with mass shootings and school lockdowns, horrors completely absent from my childhood. You have now witnessed two economic meltdowns of stunning proportions.” He goes on to acknowledge the climate’s deterioration and our fractured political landscape, all while crediting their perseverance.
“Now, cynics like to mock the supposedly spoiled or callow youth of the new millennia, but you have seen and survived so much, and you’ve responded with wit, creativity, righteous anger, activism, and a gritty determination to take the reality you’ve been handed and make it better,” he said, thankfully leaving out the part about how “all our graves go unattended.”
Watch the speech, the first Harvard commencement speech delivered on the spot where Conan’s dog urinated “seven minutes ago,” below.
Waters, meanwhile, delivered his speech to the 2020 graduates of New York’s School of Visual Arts in front of a green screen. Like Conan, Water’s speech is peppered with humor and morbidity, as well as some jabs at the value of an art degree in today’s economy. “There were never any real jobs in the workplace for you anyway,” he says, “even before the epidemic.”
He also frames the looming apocalypse through a crystal lens: “Suppose the end of the world is happening right now; well, you won’t miss a thing, will you? Because there will be no more things. You will be the last graduating class in the world.”
Check it out below.
And, if the acknowledgement of our flaming wreck of a future isn’t something you’re looking for right now, perhaps you’ll find some comfort in John Cena reading Oh, The Places You’ll Go. That’s just nice.
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