Parks and Recreation star Amy Poehler was the invited speaker at Harvard Class Day last week. She delivered a 15-minute speech, in which she managed to sprinkle in references to Sir Mix-A-Lot, Boyz II Men, and The Rock among valuable life lessons she learned while doing improv. (Though her first piece of advice is to not pursue acting: “I have a lot of talented friends who aren’t working. There’s no room at the inn. Study the human genome instead.”)
But Poehler is just one in a long line of illustrious TV stars to take the Harvard dais. So how did she measure up?
On a very rainy day in 2006, Family Guy mastermind Seth MacFarlane broke out all the favorites, including Peter and Stewie Griffin, during a set full of “edgy” material that referenced multiple STDs. How successful you’ll think it is depends entirely on how funny you find Family Guy.
Today co-host Matt Lauer was the 2009 speaker, a choice that left some students scratching their heads. In an almost 20-minute speech he called “almost surreal,” Lauer offered some outsider insights (“Don’t introduce yourself as ‘Jo Blo: Harvard Class of ‘09’”) before offering the strange suggestion to have many kids. Continue to overpopulate the planet, guys!
Perhaps the ballsiest choice for Class Day speaker was Ali G in 2004, a full two years before Borat: Cultural Learnings etc. etc. would make Sacha Baron Cohen a household name. Ali spent a few minutes complaining about having to pay for the porn movie package in his hotel room, to an aghast crowd of parents He seemed to be confused as to what the actual occasion was, calling it “your first day of university.” He later mentioned having swallowed “22 ounces of Moroccan chronic,” which he hoped to share “if the Ex-Lax works.” This generated a massive groan of disgust from the crowd, but he kept going, saying how he’d like a medical student to take a look at his rectum. (“Don’t worry, it’s clean as a whistle. You could eat your lunch off it.”) All in all, a touching and memorable speech that I’m sure all those graduates turn to fondly whenever they need some encouragement.
Best of all was 2000 speaker Conan O’Brien, who graduated Harvard in 1985. Being "one of them" was a great advantage, as were the thousands of monologue hours he’d clocked on Late Night. Starting by thanking the school for the invitation (“The last time I was invited here it cost me $110,000”), O’Brien delivered 20 solid minutes of inside jokes and “life on the outside” advice (“Never tell anyone in a roadside diner you went to Harvard”). The speech is hilarious. I recommend watching the whole thing.
If you were a graduating senior, which of these speeches would you want to hear?