Conan O'Brien's Brilliant Commencement Speech: "Disappointment Stings"

by Anne Thompson
June 15, 2011 6:57 AM
5 Comments
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Thompson on Hollywood
In case you missed it, Conan O'Brien shows what a masterful stand-up comedian with great writers can do to target a specific audience--the graduating class at Dartmouth College, whose black hats bob gratifyingly with every joke-- with viral video on the worldwide web in mind. (Video is below.) After all, O'Brien wants to build new viewers into his cable talk show.

But he actually gets serious at the end, and quite candid about what he learned from losing The Tonight Show, his Holy Grail. "The only place you are really qualified to get a job is ancient Greece," O'Brien said. "Parents will spend more time framing their child's diploma than they will earn in the next six months." Part of the problem: "aging baby boomers refuse to leave their jobs, trust me on this...Although you should not fear failure, you should do your best to avoid it...Disappointment stings...there are few things more liberating in this life than having your worst fears realized...If you handle it right your perceived failure can become a catalyst for profound reinvention...No specific job or career goal defines me or should define you."

While the commencement ceremony I recently attended at Brown University boasted honorary degree recipients Arianna Huffington, Nicholas D. Kristof, Lynn Ida Nottage, Kenneth Roth, and astronaut David R. Scott, among others, they did not speak; only Jack Nicholson said a few charming words, which the crowd ate up. At Brown, two students gave speeches, one of whom is new TOH and former Playlist intern, Jacob Combs, who is joined by another Brown grad, Maggie Lange.

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5 Comments

  • John Zimmer | June 21, 2011 6:32 AMReply

    Conan's speech was great on a number of levels: he was funny; he told a good story; he had a message for the graduating class. My only real "complaint" was that he rushed the ending a bit. He could have taken a few more seconds to drive home his key message. Here's my analysis of the speech from the public speaking perspective: http://wp.me/pwfa1-1Jl

    John Zimmer

  • Terrence Gargiulo | June 17, 2011 9:03 AMReply

    Along with humor and engaging audiences, it's a challenge to offer a diverse audience a message that will resonate and leave them with gifts for their journey ahead.

    Here's an example of a storied approach to this vhallenge. A collage of stories is used to offer students three gifts for their journey (judgment, compassion, and mercy).

    http://www.vimeo.com/24981140

  • Terrence Gargiulo | June 17, 2011 9:03 AMReply

    Along with humor and engaging audiences, it's a challenge to offer a diverse audience a message that will resonate and leave them with gifts for their journey ahead.

    Here's an example of a storied approach to this vhallenge. A collage of stories is used to offer students three gifts for their journey (judgment, compassion, and mercy).

    http://www.vimeo.com/24981140

  • ReemA | June 16, 2011 5:08 AMReply

    Yes he is a "masterful stand up comedian" but that speech was all his and not his writers'. Check out previous works written by Conan.

  • davidtheintern | June 15, 2011 9:50 AMReply

    His speech was incredibly witty and intelligent! Good job Conan! Makes me excited for his documentary : http://www.facebook.com/conanobriencantstop

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