[FoRK] I'm sure you're getting N copies of this Jon Stewart piece...
rohit at ics.uci.edu
Wed May 19 13:53:53 PDT 2004
.. but the man get serious props for wrapping up a commencement talk on
9/11 with a masturbation joke! :-)
Jon Stewart's ('84) Commencement Address
Thank you Mr. President, I had forgotten how crushingly dull these
ceremonies are. Thank you.
My best to the choir. I have to say, that song never grows old for me.
Whenever I hear that song, it reminds me of nothing.
I am honored to be here, I do have a confession to make before we get
going that I should explain very quickly. When I am not on television,
this is actually how I dress. I apologize, but there’s something very
freeing about it. I congratulate the students for being able to walk
even a half a mile in this non-breathable fabric in the Williamsburg
heat. I am sure the environment that now exists under your robes, are
the same conditions that primordial life began on this earth.
I know there were some parents that were concerned about my speech
here tonight, and I want to assure you that you will not hear any
language that is not common at, say, a dock workers union meeting, or
Tourrett’s convention, or profanity seminar. Rest assured.
I am honored to be here and to receive this honorary doctorate. When I
think back to the people that have been in this position before me from
Benjamin Franklin to Queen Noor of Jordan, I can’t help but wonder what
has happened to this place. Seriously, it saddens me. As a person, I am
honored to get it; as an alumnus, I have to say I believe we can do
better. And I believe we should. But it has always been a dream of mine
to receive a doctorate and to know that today, without putting in any
effort, I will. It’s incredibly gratifying. Thank you. That’s very nice
of you, I appreciate it.
I’m sure my fellow doctoral graduates—who have spent so long toiling
in academia, sinking into debt, sacrificing God knows how many years of
what, in truth, is a piece of parchment that in truth has been so
devalued by our instant gratification culture as to have been rendered
meaningless—will join in congratulating me. Thank you.
But today isn’t about how my presence here devalues this fine
institution. It is about you, the graduates. I’m honored to be here to
congratulate you today. Today is the day you enter into the real world,
and I should give you a few pointers on what it is. It’s actually not
that different from the environment here. The biggest difference is you
will now be paying for things, and the real world is not surrounded by
three-foot brick wall. And the real world is not a restoration. If you
see people in the real world making bricks out of straw and water,
those people are not colonial re-enactors—they are poor. Help them. And
in the real world, there is not as much candle lighting. I don’t really
know what it is about this campus and candle lighting, but I wish it
would stop. We only have so much wax, people.
Lets talk about the real world for a moment. We had been discussing it
earlier, and I…I wanted to bring this up to you earlier about the real
world, and this is I guess as good a time as any. I don’t really know
to put this, so I’ll be blunt. We broke it.
Please don’t be mad. I know we were supposed to bequeath to the next
generation a world better than the one we were handed. So, sorry.
I don’t know if you’ve been following the news lately, but it just
kinda got away from us. Somewhere between the gold rush of easy
internet profits and an arrogant sense of endless empire, we heard kind
of a pinging noise, and uh, then the damn thing just died on us. So I
But here’s the good news. You fix this thing, you’re the next greatest
generation, people. You do this—and I believe you can—you win this war
on terror, and Tom Brokaw’s kissing your ass from here to Tikrit, let
me tell ya. And even if you don’t, you’re not gonna have much trouble
surpassing my generation. If you end up getting your picture taken next
to a naked guy pile of enemy prisoners and don’t give the thumbs up
you’ve outdid us.
We declared war on terror. We declared war on terror—it’s not even a
noun, so, good luck. After we defeat it, I’m sure we’ll take on that
But obviously that’s the world. What about your lives? What piece of
wisdom can I impart to you about my journey that will somehow ease your
transition from college back to your parents' basement?
I know some of you are nostalgic today and filled with excitement and
perhaps uncertainty at what the future holds. I know six of you are
trying to figure out how to make a bong out of your caps. I believe you
are members of Sigma Nu. Hey that did work, thank you for the
So I thought I’d talk a little bit about my experience here at William
and Mary. It was very long ago, and if you had been to William and Mary
while I was here and found out that I would be the commencement speaker
20 years later, you would be somewhat surprised, and probably somewhat
angry. I came to William and Mary because as a Jewish person I wanted
to explore the rich tapestry of Judaica that is Southern Virginia.
Imagine my surprise when I realized “The Tribe” was not what I thought
In 1980 I was 17 years old. When I moved to Williamsburg, my hall was
in the basement of Yates, which combined the cheerfulness of a bomb
shelter with the prison-like comfort of the group shower. As a freshman
I was quite a catch. Less than five feet tall, yet my head is the same
size it is now. Didn’t even really look like a head, it looked more
like a container for a head. I looked like a Peanuts character. Peanuts
characters had terrible acne. But what I lacked in looks I made up for
with a repugnant personality.
In 1981 I lost my virginity, only to gain it back again on appeal in
1983. You could say that my one saving grace was academics where I
excelled, but I did not.
And yet now I live in the rarified air of celebrity, of mega stardom.
My life a series of Hollywood orgies and Kabala center brunches with
the cast of Friends. At least that’s what my handlers tell me. I’m
actually too valuable to live my own life and spend most of my days in
a vegetable crisper to remain fake news anchor fresh.
So I know that the decisions that I made after college worked out. But
at the time I didn’t know that they would. See college is not
necessarily predictive of your future success. And it’s the kind of
thing where the path that I chose obviously wouldn’t work for you. For
one, you’re not very funny.
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 that 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…although I’m sure downloading illegal files…but, nah, that’s a
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.
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
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
Guiliani 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 gonna be OK.”
Thank you. Congratulations. I honor you. Good Night.
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