Tuesday, July 26, 2011

20 Funniest Moments in Commencement Speech History

Graduations are simultaneously one of the most emotional and boring ceremonies you’ll ever go through in your life. You’re moving on to a bright new stage in life, leaving behind your past and taking your accomplishments with you. But first, you have to sit through an hours-long ceremony as school officials ramble on and hundreds, even thousands of you and your classmates are called up for diplomas.

The one bright spot in any commencement ceremony is the keynote speaker. If you’re lucky, you’ll end up with someone who can deliver a speech that not only imparts wisdom, but riotous humor at the same time. The students who were a part of these graduation ceremonies experienced just that, whether they were funny moments from comedian speakers, or strange incidents that happened on stage.

  1. Ellen Degeneres, Tulane 2006

    "Who is as hungover as I am? Anybody?" Ellen Degeneres made an unannounced appearance at Tulane’s 2006 commencement in her bathrobe. As a native New Orleanian, Ellen Degeneres spoke to the 2006 graduating class of Tulane, a group of students who were affected by Katrina. She brought hilarity and even a bit of helpful knowledge to these students, reminding them that as they go out in the world, her show is on at different times in different cities.

  2. Seth MacFarlane, Harvard

    Seth MacFarlane, creator of Family Guy and American Dad, brought his usual insulting but funny wit to Harvard, which he noted is "pound for pound, the smartest of all your freakin schools." He shared his advice for graduates in the real world as not only himself, but also his beloved characters Peter and Stewie Griffin and Glenn Quagmire. In the speech, he told students he’d been living amongst them at Harvard, "sleeping with [their] women" (and a school official with hands like a prison doctor) and learning about their unofficial major: weed.

  3. Jon Stewart, College of William and Mary 2004

    With Jon Stewart at the podium delivering a commencement speech, you can expect to receive a dose of insightful satire on the world and current events. A William and Mary graduate himself, Stewart began by noting that he’d "forgotten how crushingly dull these ceremonies are." He made a confession about the real world to the graduates: "We broke it. Please don’t be mad." He explained that it just kind of got away from us but shared the good news that William and Mary graduates could fix it. He shared several jokes about the state of the world and the economy, but at the same time offered hope, telling graduates that "things change rapidly, and life gets better in an instant."

  4. The Obama Nap

    In 2010, President Obama was the keynote speaker for Kalamazoo Central’s graduation ceremony. Although it was surely an exciting moment for many students and parents in attendance, not everyone was enthralled by the President’s speaking. A student in the choir, seated behind the President in full view of the camera, fought to stay awake during his speech. The video shows him yawning and fighting to stay alert, but eventually nodding off. We’re sure his mom his proud of her son’s moment in the limelight.

  5. Congratulations, Class of Two Double-Oh Four

    As co-salutatorian, Henry Tappen took advantage of his time on the podium and to create a graduation rap for his class. He took his classmates on a musical journey through their four years of school, as annoying freshmen to knowing seniors with potential. His unexpectedly funny and endearing rap was first met with stunned silence, but Tappen received roaring applause when he was done.

  6. Lisa Kudrow, Vassar 2010

    Lisa Kudrow, a 1985 graduate of Vassar, started her speech by thanking the university’s president for inviting her, as well as the class for not protesting. As she went on, she was sure to pause for noises of disbelief from the crowd that she’d been there 25 years ago. Kudrow’s best advice and joke from the day reminded students to listen to themselves: "I just listened to that inner voice. By the way, it’s always a good move to listen to that inner voice…if it doesn’t lead to a crime."

  7. It feels like St. Patrick’s Day

    This high school student captured the interest of the crowd by observing that with all of the green robes, it felt "like some sort of St. Patrick’s day celebration in here." Wishing that the ceremony could be shorter, he shared his idea for a "self-serving bucket of diplomas" that students could pick up themselves. He finished off the address by pointing out the school was losing its most valuable asset: the graduating class.

  8. Commencement: The Musical

    Taking advantage of the captive audience provided by the graduation ceremony, this speaker turned his commencement speech into a musical. He urged the audience to relax, explaining that they may even slip in and out of consciousness from the soothing sounds of the keyboard. He took the audience through a delightful jaunt of the high school experience, and shared that he looked forward to laughing about their musical graduation speech in 20 years.

  9. Conan O’Brien, Dartmouth 2011

    While standing behind a tree stump for a podium, Conan O’Brien brought his usual tack-sharp wit to point out something terribly wrong with the scene he was in: as President George Bush, Sr. sat behind him, he, a cable TV comedian, was the one chosen give students wisdom for their lives. In describing his preparation for the important speech, he told students, "I drank two cans of Red Bull, snorted some Adderol, played a few hours of Call of Duty, and then opened my browser," much like many of them had invariably done for term papers. He closed by quoting himself, telling students to "work hard, be kind, and amazing things will happen."

  10. Amy Poehler, Harvard 2011

    Harvard maintained their great track record for hilarious commencement speakers with Amy Poehler. She likened life to the movie Fast Five, as a "heist, that requires good drivers, an explosives expert, a hot girl who doubles as a master of disguise…and this is a hard and fast rule: if The Rock shows up, they’re on to you." Among her advice for the graduates was a reminder to believe everything they see in movies, noting that "every single thing you see in movies is real." She also encouraged graduates to collaborate with other people, because "other people, and other peoples’ ideas are often better than your own."

  11. Fred Armisen, Oregon Episcopal High School 2011

    Like Amy Poehler, Fred Armisen is an SNL favorite and a great choice for a commencement speaker. But instead of Harvard, Armisen addressed an Oregon high school’s graduating class. Armisen shared that he agreed to speak at the high school, only if he could "do it from a podium that looks like I’m riding on an eagle." In his advice for the future, he was sure to tell the students that there’s no one way of doing things, recommending that they could "all be male models. Every single one of you, even the girls."

  12. Bill Gates, Harvard 2007

    Although Bill Gates is not often revered as a comedy genius, he delivered a great one-liner to the Harvard class of 2007. A former student of Harvard University, Bill Gates dropped out to create Microsoft before he graduated. In his address to the graduating class, he endeared the audience by thanking Harvard for the honorary degree, commenting that he’d be "changing [his] job next year and it [would] be nice to finally have a college degree on [his] resume."

  13. Will Ferrell, Harvard 2003

    "This is not the Worcester, Mass Boat Show, is it?" Will Ferrell made an entrance at his Harvard commencement speech. Dressed in an outfit straight off the dock, he confessed his confusion, citing an error in his Palm Pilot. But he got it together, lamenting that he was not accepted at Harvard, but rather the School of Hard Knocks, whose colors were "black and blue, baby." He warned students of the reality of life on the outside, where "the chances of landing a decent job are about as good as finding weapons of mass destruction in the Iraqi desert." He finished the speech off with a special version of Dust in the Wind: "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."

  14. Ali G, Harvard 2004

    Sacha Baron Cohen’s persona Ali G doesn’t seem like the ideal choice for Harvard’s commencement speech at first, but he offered a fun and thoroughly offensive oration in which he "dro[ped] some serious knowledge." He reminded graduates that they were joining the ranks of such Harvard greats as "that really fit honey from Star Wars," who he’d like to encourage to "play with [his] light saber." He was taken from the stage in a mock detainment by Harvard University Police Department, handcuffed and crying, "Police brutality!" while wearing his "Professor of Erbology" track suit.

  15. Welcome, Wal-Mart Executives

    Ralph Nguyen spoke the truth at his graduation, explaining that not everyone would achieve greatness. He told his fellow students that they were sitting among future doctors, business leaders and…Wal-Mart executives. He reminded them to take it easy by spying on their next door neighbor, because if you "can’t learn to chill out, you will burn out." Nguyen made sure to thank the important people in his life because he’d "likely be homeless without them."

  16. Brad Delson, UCLA 2009

    UCLA alum and guitarist for Linkin Park, Brad Delson delivered an endearing and surprisingly funny speech to graduates. He was chosen to fill in for James Franco, who backed out on his commitment to speak, and poked fun at the fact that he was "not the university’s #1 draft pick," following not only James Franco, but also Conan O’Brien who turned down the offer because there was not enough time to work on the speech. Brad stepped up to the plate, expressing his excitement at receiving an honorary degree for the speech, until a university official rushed up to tell him he wouldn’t be receiving one. He returned his cap and gown, revealing a Bruins basketball jersey to an erupting crowd, and going on to cover a Britney Spears song.

  17. ZDoggMD

    "ZDogg" takes his fellow graduates on his journey through medical school, comparing it to a cheesy Las Vegas buffet: deceptively cheap, with a super long line, and not enough room to hold another bite, which is fine because "medical school is all about regurgitation anyway." He highlighted some of the medical knowledge he picked up on the way, giving the technical medical terms for the condition of crying like a baby and went on to share common afflictions medical students suffer from, explaining that the big difference between students and patients is that "your patients are properly medicated." ZDoggMD closed by reminding his fellow graduates, "don’t forget the shoe covers."

  18. Arnold Schwarzenegger, Emory University 2010

    Arnold Schwarzenegger’s commencement speech at Emory University wasn’t terribly funny at the time of his speaking, but after his cheating scandal, some of his comments are pretty funny to look back on. Perhaps the largest gem of his speech was his excitement at finally receiving a law degree: "This is my first law degree," he said. "Finally, the Kennedys will think I’m a success. And Maria can finally bring me home to meet her family." We’re pretty sure any goodwill from his Emory degree has been wiped out.

  19. Rahm Emanuel, Sarah Lawrence 2009

    Rahm Emanuel, former White House Chief of Staff, started his commencement speech off with a bang, noting that "it’s good to be at a Democratic rally," playing to the school’s liberal leanings. He reminded students to share more with their parents, reminding them that "text messages do not suffice." Recalling his own time at Sarah Lawrence, he expressed his gratefulness for his studies in child psychology, which came in handy when he moved to Washington and started working with Congress.

  20. Looking for what?

    This graduate’s story got a little off track. While relating a tale of looking for success, he slipped up and said "we’re looking for sex" instead. Although the video isn’t great, the crowd heard it loud and clear, and their reactions clearly mortified the speaker, surrounded by his family, friends and faculty. The master of ceremonies congratulated him on a very "sexcessful" speech.

Taken From Best Colleges Online

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