Delivered from a podium set up in his backyard, O’Brien used the unusual setting to his advantage, opening his speech with a montage of archival footage of a standing ovation from cheering crowds, a Blue Angels flyover, blasting cannons, and a water-squirting tugboat salute.
O’Brien, himself a Harvard grad and two-time editor of The Lampoon, said graduates would receive their diplomas in a plain envelope marked “Cornell Diploma” as a way to foil package thieves.
“As you sit here today, or stand, or microwave a burrito, or ride a Peloton, or recline uncomfortably in your childhood bed, or mine Bitcoin, or Google ‘Who is Conan O’Brien?,’ you are witnessing many firsts in today’s ceremony,” O’Brien said, mentioning it was the first time the address had been delivered in the spot where his dog urinated just seven minutes before.
O’Brien thanked Harvard for his honorary degree in “bosonic string theory and condensed-matter physics” (he was actually a history major) and saluted the IT department for their efforts (“Really nice compression, guys. Beautiful, very little buffering.”)
To make everyone feel at home (even though they were actually at home), O’Brien said that authorities were doing their best to make up for the strangeness. “Trust me, we are taking steps to make today’s Commencement feel as authentic as possible,” he said. “In fact, right now, Harvard is charging each of you $50 for parking in Cambridge.”
There was a slightly serious moment as well. O’Brien noted that senors had “been handed more than your share. You’ve only known a world beset by terrorist hate. You’ve grown up with mass shootings and school lockdowns. Horror was completely absent from my childhood. You have now witnessed two economic meltdowns of stunning proportions. You are remarkable examples to my children of how to be smart, brave, and yes, resilient in a scary world.”