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.
"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.
Seth MacFarlane, creator of Family Guy andAmerican 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.
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."
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.
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.
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."
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.
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.
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."
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."