Pop Culture Commencement

This past Memorial Day weekend marked the REDACTED anniversary of my graduation from college. I always thought it was funny that commencement was on a holiday weekend, since our fall semester used to start on Labor Day. My alma mater was apparently hell-bent on eating up as many three day weekends as possible.

Commencement ceremonies are boring; I don’t think I’m saying anything all that shocking with that admission. It’s a lot of sitting around and waiting for either your turn to walk across the stage or to clap for the people that you know that are walking across the stage. I would have skipped my Masters graduation ceremony altogether, but I was getting an award from my department and they led me to believe that I had to be at graduation to receive it. I didn’t – there was a separate departmental ceremony that I could have shown up for later in the day – and I wasted three hours of my life (and my family’s life) sitting in a hot gym being bored. It’s all pretty mundane and most commencements follow the same basic formula, though I always appreciated the bagpipes at my undergraduate ceremony. Bagpipes are almost always a welcome addition in my book.

The only thing that can really liven up a graduation is a solid commencement speaker. Bringing in someone who is famous or exceptional and that is capable of giving an engaging and entertaining speech can make a real difference. Unfortunately, I have never actually been at a ceremony where this took place. When I was an undergrad, my college frowned upon paying a lot for someone to come speak. They were under the delusional idea that coming to speak at a small liberal arts college in upstate NY was compensation enough. I was nominally involved in student government in college and I remember that we even offered to use a big portion of our operating budget to bring in someone more prestigious (I think it was a Kennedy – though for all I know it could have been actor Jamie Kennedy. I didn’t pay a lot of attention in these meetings.) The college turned us down. My commencement speaker had something to do with politics in Ireland, which was way too heavy for a Saturday morning. It was boring and ultimately most of the day was pretty forgettable. The college has since changed their tune on commencement speakers as this year they had Deepak Chopra. So not fair.

This year, lots of pop culture figures donned caps and gowns to give the keynote address and collect a made-up degree. These speakers were both entertaining and insightful and while I don’t know that anyone could have livened up graduating in a parking lot (they’ve since moved commencement to the soccer fields – everything got better after I left), they certainly would have helped make my ceremony a much more enjoyable and memorable experience:

Joss Whedon – Wesleyan University Commencement:


Stephen Colbert – University of Virginia Commencement


Anders Holm (Workaholics) – University of Wisconsin


Eric Idle – Whitman College Commencement


Jimmy Kimmel – UNLV Commencement


Kerry Washington – George Washington University


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