The following is the full transcript of Conan O’Brien’s speech to the Harvard Class of 2000.
Conan O’Brien – Comedian
I’d like to begin by thanking the class marshals for inviting me here today. The last time I was invited to Harvard it cost me $110,000. So I was reluctant to show up.
I’m going to start before I really begin by announcing my one goal this afternoon. I want to be half as funny as tomorrow’s commencement speaker, moral philosopher and economist Amartya Sen. That’s the job. Must get more laughs than seminal wage-price theoretician. By the way, enjoy that. Bring a calculator. It’s going to be a nerd fest.
Students of the Harvard Class of 2000, 15 years ago I sat where you sit now. And I thought exactly what you are now thinking. What’s going to happen to me? Will I find my place in the world? Am I really graduating a virgin? Still have 24 hours. Roommate’s mom very hot. Swear she’s checking me out. There was that Rob Lowe movie.
Being here today, on a sincere note, is very special for me. I do miss this place. I especially miss Harvard Square. Let me tell you, you don’t know this, Harvard Square is extremely unique. Nowhere else in the world will you find a man wearing a turban and a Red Sox jacket working in a lesbian bookstore. I’m just glad my dad’s working.
It’s particularly sweet for me to be here today because — this is true — when I graduated I wanted very badly to be a Class Day speaker. Unfortunately, my speech was rejected. So if you’ll indulge me I’d like to read a portion of that speech. This is the actual speech from 15 years ago. “Fellow students, as we sit here today listening to that classic A-ha tune which will definitely stand the test of time, I would like to make several predictions about what the future will hold. I believe that one day a simple governor from a small southern state will rise to the highest office in the land. He will lack political skill, but will lead on the sheer strength of his moral authority. I believe that justice will prevail and one day the Berlin Wall will crumble, uniting East and West Berlin forever under Communist rule. I believe that one day a high-speed network of interconnected computers will spring up worldwide, so enriching people that they will lose their interest in idle chitchat and pornography. And finally, I believe that one day I will have a television show on a major network seen by millions of people at night which I will use to reenact crimes and help catch at-large criminals.”
Then I had a section on the death of Wall Street, but you don’t need to hear about that.
The point is that although you see me as a celebrity, a member of the cultural elite, a demigod if you will, and potential husband material, I came here in the fall of 1981 and lived here at Holworthy Hall as a student much like you. I was, without exaggeration — this is true — the ugliest picture in the freshman facebook. When Harvard asked me for a picture the previous summer, this is true story — I thought it was for their records, so I jogged in the August heat to a passport photo office and sat for a morgue shot. To make matters worse, when the Facebook came out, they put my picture right next to Catherine Oxenberg, a stunning blonde actress who was expected to join the class of ‘85, but decided to defer admission so she could join the cast of Dynasty. Folks, my photo would have looked bad on any page, but next to Catherine Oxenberg, I looked like a mackerel that had been in a car accident.
You see, in those days, I was 6 feet 4 inches tall and I weighed 150 pounds. True. Recently, I had some structural engineers run those numbers into a computer model, and according to the computer, I collapsed in 1987, killing hundreds in Taiwan.
After freshman year, I moved to Mather House. Mather House, incidentally, was designed by the same firm that built Hitler’s bunker. In fact, if Hitler had conducted the war from Mather House, he would have shot himself a year earlier. Saved us a lot of trouble.
1985 seems like a long time ago now. When I had my Class Day, you students would have been seven years old. Seven years old! You realize what that means? Back then I could have beaten any of you in a fight. And I mean really badly. Like no contest at all. If anyone here has a time machine, seriously, I will kick your seven-year-old butt right now.
A lot has happened in 15 years though. When you think about it, we come from completely different worlds. When I graduated in 1985, we watched movies starring Tom Cruise and listened to music by Madonna. I come from a time when we huddled around the TV set and watched the Cosby Show on NBC, never imagining that there would one day be a show called Cosby on CBS. In 1985 we drove cars with driver’s-side air bags. But if you had told us that one day there would be passenger-side air bags, we’d have burned you for witchcraft.
Of course, I think there is some common ground between us. I remember well the great uncertainty of this day, the anxiety. Many of you are justifiably nervous about leaving the safe, comfortable world of Harvard Yard and hurling yourself headlong into the cold, harsh world of Harvard grad school, a plum job in your father’s firm, or a year abroad with a gold Amex card and then a plum job at your father’s firm. But let me assure you that the knowledge you gained here at Harvard is a precious gift that will never leave you. Take it from me, your education is yours to keep forever. Why, many of you have read the Merchant of Florence, and that will inspire you when you travel to the island of Spain. Your knowledge of that problem they had with those people in Russia, or that guy in South America, you know, the guy, will be with you for the rest of your life.
There’s also sadness today. A feeling of loss that you’re leaving Harvard forever. Let me assure you that you never really leave Harvard. The Harvard fundraising committee will be on your ass until the day you die.
This is true. I know for a fact that right now a member of the alumni association is at the Mount Auburn Cemetery shaking down the corpse of Henry Adams. They heard he has a brass toe ring and they aim to get it. Now imagine, no offense, buddy, but these people just raised $2.5 billion and they only got through the Bs in the alumni directory. Here’s basically how it works. Your phone rings, usually after a big meal when you’re tired and most vulnerable, and a voice asks you for money. Knowing, you’ve read in the paper that they just raised $2.5 billion, you ask, “What do you need it for?” There is a long pause, and the voice on the other end of the line says, “We don’t need it, we just want it.”