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Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

Jesus, this graduation speech from Nebraska senator Ben Sasse is just terrible

Illustration for article titled Jesus, this graduation speech from Nebraska senator Ben Sasse is just terrible
Photo: Mark Wilson (Getty Images)

Giving a high school graduation speech shouldn’t be all that difficult. Most of the students in the audience won’t really listen and those who are paying attention likely don’t expect much more than some general advice and encouragement for the years ahead. That said, Republican U.S. Sen. Ben Sasse still managed to smack his forehead against this very low bar in a commencement address from his Fremont, Nebraska alma mater, filled with horrible jokes and right-wing talking points.

The speech was pre-recorded and played for a graduating class that Sasse seemed to view primarily as fresh new voters to win over with some of the sweatiest Republican jokes we’ve heard in some time. After making fun of the class for being stuck at home in quarantine, Sasse throws in a “Thanks a lot, China,” just to make sure right upfront that viewers know exactly the kind of weenie they’re dealing with here.

What follows from this point on is about seven minutes of shitty jokes on subjects like generational divides—a tortured bit about climbing gym ropes turns into a dig at how much fitter Sasse’s cohort is than those dang zoomers he’s speaking to—and how high school is terrible. He also touches on how difficult the world is right now, mocks the practice of psychology, and also decides to say that America is “going to have a serious reckoning with the thugs in China who let this mess spiral out of control by lying about it.”

It goes on and on and on, daring the viewer to doze off before they’re brought back to attention by Sasse throwing in more gems like a joke where he imagines a high school reunion where graduates stand around musing, “Remember that time that China started a big global pandemic that created the worst public health crisis in over a century, and brought the economy to its knees, and we had to stay at home, and everybody was hoarding toilet paper, and we all watched this documentary about some weirdo dude who raised tigers?”


There’s a lot to zoom in on here and Twitter has obliged, highlighting bits like Sasse’s Cable Guy sign-off, how similar his speech is to an awful stand-up set, and the fact that the whole thing looks like a local cable commercial.


If you want to hear the full thing for yourself—maybe to, we don’t know, memorize a point of reference for how not to give a graduation speech—Sasse’s address is available here.

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Contributor, The A.V. Club. Reid's a writer and editor who has appeared at GQ, Playboy, and Paste. He also co-created and writes for videogame sites Bullet Points Monthly and Digital Love Child.

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