Home » Full Transcript: Jon Stewart 2004 Commencement Speech at The College of William and Mary

Full Transcript: Jon Stewart 2004 Commencement Speech at The College of William and Mary

So how do you know what is the right path to choose to get the result that you desire? And the honest answer is this. You won’t. And accepting that greatly eases the anxiety of your life experience.

I was not exceptional here, and am not now. I was mediocre here. And I’m not saying aim low. Not everybody can wander around in an alcoholic haze and then at 40 just, you know, decide to be President. You’ve got to really work hard to try to — I was actually referring to my father.

When I left William and Mary I was shell-shocked. Because when you’re in college it’s very clear what you have to do to succeed. And I imagine here everybody knows exactly the number of credits they needed to graduate, where they had to buckle down, which introductory psychology class would pad out the schedule. You knew what you had to do to get to this college and to graduate from it. But the unfortunate, yet truly exciting thing about your life, is there is no core curriculum. The entire place is an elective. The paths are infinite and the results uncertain. And it can be maddening to those that go here, especially here, because your strength has always been achievement. So if there’s any real advice I can give you it’s this: College is something you complete; life is something you experience.

So don’t worry about your grade or the results or success. Success is defined in myriad ways, and you will find it, and people will no longer be grading you, but it will come from your own internal sense of decency which I imagine, after going through the program here, is quite strong. Love what you do. Although I’m sure downloading illegal files…but, nah, that’s a different story. Love what you do. Get good at it. Competence is a rare commodity in this day and age. And let the chips fall where they may.

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And the last thing I want to address is the idea that somehow this new generation is not as prepared for the sacrifice and the tenacity that will be needed in the difficult times ahead. I have not found this generation to be cynical or apathetic or selfish. They are as strong and as decent as any people that I have met. And I will say this, on my way down here I stopped at Bethesda Naval, and when you talk to the young kids that are there that have just been back from Iraq and Afghanistan, you don’t have the worry about the future that you hear from so many that are not a part of this generation but judging it from above.

And the other thing — that I will say is, when I spoke earlier about the world being broke, I was somewhat being facetious, because every generation has their challenge. And things change rapidly, and life gets better in an instant.

I was in New York on 9/11 when the towers came down. I lived 14 blocks from the twin towers. And when they came down, I thought that the world had ended. And I remember walking around in a daze for weeks. And Mayor Giuliani had said to the city, “You’ve got to get back to normal. We’ve got to show that things can change and get back to what they were.”

And one day I was coming out of my building, and on my stoop, was a man who was crouched over, and he appeared to be in deep thought. And as I got closer to him I realized, he was playing with himself. And that’s when I thought, “You know what, we’re going to be OK.”

Thank you. Congratulations. I honor you. Good Night. Thank you.

Timothy Sullivan – 25th President, College of William and Mary

Thank you, Jon Stewart. I doubt any of us have ever heard anything like that before at commencement. It’s wonderful.

Now we will proceed to awarding honorary degrees. Madame Rector if you’ll please join me. It is my privilege to present Jon Stewart. You have to come back up here.

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He just asked whether he’s getting bumped down to a master’s, I said no.

Jon Stewart, comedian, commentator, graduate of the College of William and Mary, and highly respected purveyor of counterfeit news, your insight has had a very real and most welcome effect on this nation’s civic discourse. Your literate humane and hilarious criticism reflects a passion for our country’s potential and reminds us when this potential goes unfulfilled. At the college you pursued a major in psychology and played wing for the William and Mary soccer team. Coach Al Albert who has remained a friend and mentor was among those who helped you distinguish between what is important and what pretends to be. This gift of discernment along with material gain from jobs as a bartender, carpenter, mosquito sorter and puppeteer inspired your remarkably quick rise to the top of the nation’s comedy circuit. Your reputation for connecting with any audience grew during the early 1990s when more and more television and film projects sought the services of an intelligent and charismatic comedian. It was MTV’s The Jon Stewart Show that best-prepared you to remake Comedy Central’s The Daily Show as its host and executive producer. It soon became The Daily Show with Jon Stewart and then as its promotional advertisements say humbly the most important television show ever. Its importance has been recognized with three Emmys, a number of Critics Choice Awards, a George Foster Peabody Award and the nearly uniform praise of the journalists and politicians whom you hold accountable every evening. Never forgetting that as Shakespeare wrote in The Comedy of Errors, “Every why hath a wherefore,” you highlight the absurdities in politics and the media, two tents that dominate the modern carnival of American culture.

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