It’s graduation season so there are lots of commencement speeches being delivered by famous and powerful people. This is one of my favorites, mostly because it’s just so entertaining. Anyone who’s sat through a graduation ceremony knows how important a little entertainment can be, especially when you’re getting soaked in the rain or baking in the sun under those black robes.
Sure, Conan also has a “real” message for the Dartmouth grads about the lessons he’s learned from seeing his dream of hosting “The Tonight Show” come true and then end in a very public debacle. “In 2000,” he says, “I told graduates not to be afraid to fail. Well now I’m here to tell you that, though you should not fear failure, you should do your very best to avoid it.” But the majority of his talk is mostly just funny, with a bit of hard-earned wisdom tucked into the last third. That seems like the perfect formula to me; keep them laughing, then leave them with something to think about.
Other things I love about this talk include the shots of the Bushes laughing and the fact that college president “Stinky Pete” can barely contain himself. Conan’s reference to “The Third Earl of UC Santa Cruz.” And that lectern (it’s not a podium, Conan) that he describes as “something a bear would use at an AA meeting.”
Overall, this is a great example of a presenter who knows what he’s doing, who has carefully prepared his talk, knows how to use a teleprompter effectively and makes the effort deliver a performance. Most of us will never be this polished, this funny or smart. But it give us something to aspire to.