Conan O’Brien delivered an inspiring first of its kind address to Harvard’s class of 2020.
Social distancing and quarantining protocols have robbed many people of enjoying special events over the past few months. And while the priority is public health, it still stings to miss out on weddings, baby showers, graduation ceremonies, and anything else that would bring people together. Conan O’Brien did his part to provide some inspiration in these uncertain times.
O’Brien was asked to speak during the online graduation ceremony for Harvard’s class of 2020. As one of the university’s most famous graduates, it was another chance for O’Brien to bring his wisdom and sense of humor to some of the best and brightest students in the world.
Delivering commencement addresses and speaking to college students has become a habit for O’Brien. In addition to speaking at Harvard, O’Brien also delivered the commencement speech at Dartmouth’s 2011 ceremony.
But no past experience could really prepare O’Brien for his 2020 speech to Harvard’s graduates. The pandemic, economic crisis, and upcoming election all combine to make this is a time of uncertainty whether you’re just starting off on your own or you’re 25 years into a prolific career. Here’s how O’Brien approached the challenge in his address:
Conan O’Brien perfectly blended sincerity and absurdity.
Fans of Conan O’Brien know that he can’t stay serious for too long. Whether it is on Conan, hosting the “Conan O’Brien Needs a Friend” podcast, or sitting down as the subject of an interview, O’Brien gets a little uncomfortable if things go too long without a punchline. Here, the late-night television legend perfectly balances his sincerity and his silliness.
O’Brien reflects on what a graduating college senior has lived through over the past 20 or so years. Terrorism, economic disasters, mass shootings, global warming, and a polarizing political climate are all normal aspects of life. He then praises the generation that has endured these challenges with hopes to improve the status quo.
There is a similarity between this address to Harvard and what O’Brien said on his last night as host of The Tonight Show. Before signing off, O’Brien said this with a particular emphasis that young people pay attention:
"Please do not be cynical. I hate cynicism. For the record, it’s my least favorite quality. It doesn’t lead anywhere. Nobody in life gets exactly what they though they were going to get. But if you work really hard and you’re kind, amazing things will happen. I’m telling you, amazing things will happen."
O’Brien echoes this sentiment in his Harvard speech. No college student would want to be graduating into the world that is in front of them. But following O’Brien’s advice can help ensure things get better.
Whether you graduated high school or college this summer or decades ago, O’Brien’s speech was inspirational and featured some sage advice. What did you think? Let us know in the comment section.