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The Greatest Speeches in History: Conan O’Brien Delivers Dartmouth’s Commencement Address

The Greatest Speeches in History is a weekly column that compiles the most memorable speeches in history with the goal to emphasize on the power of public speaking, to illustrate its importance, impact, and necessity to master. And today, precisely – the importance of making your audience laugh.

Today’s speech is very special (and hilarious) as it is delivered by one of the world’s most famous comedians, the famous TV host, writer and producer Conan O’Brien. Here are the most interesting outtakes:

My first job as your commencement speaker is to illustrate that life is not fair.  For example, you have worked tirelessly for four years to earn the diploma you’ll be receiving this weekend, and Dartmouth is giving me the same degree for interviewing the fourth lead in Twilight.  Deal with it.  Another example that life is not fair: if it does rain, the powerful rich people on stage get the tent. Deal with it.”

“Yes, I’ve always had a special bond with this school.  In fact, this is my second time coming here.   When I was 17 years old and touring colleges, way back in the fall of 1980, I came to Dartmouth.  Dartmouth was a very different place back then.  I made the trip up from Boston on a mule and, after asking the blacksmith in West Leb for directions, I came to this beautiful campus.  No dormitories had been built yet, so I stayed with a family of fur traders in White River junction.  It snowed heavily during my visit and I was trapped here for four months.  I was forced to eat the mule, who a week earlier had been forced to eat the fur traders.  Still, I loved Dartmouth and I vowed to return.”

“In 2000, I told graduates “Don’t 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.   Nietzsche famously said, “Whatever doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.”  But what he failed to stress is that IT ALMOST KILLS YOU.  Disappointment stings and, for driven, successful people like yourselves it is disorienting.  What Nietzsche should have said is  “Whatever doesn’t kill you, makes you watch a lot of Cartoon Network and drink mid-price Chardonnay at 11 in the morning.”

“By definition, Commencement speakers at an Ivy League college are considered successful.  But a little over a year ago, I experienced a profound and very public disappointment.  I did not get what I wanted, and I left a system that had nurtured and help define me for the better part of seventeen years.  I went from being in the center of the grid to not only off the grid, but underneath the coffee table that the grid sits on, lost in the shag carpeting that is underneath the coffee table supporting the grid.  It was the making of a career disaster, and a terrible analogy.”

“Many of you here today are getting your diploma at this Ivy League school because you have committed yourself to a dream and worked hard to achieve it.  And there is no greater cliché in a commencement address than “follow your dream.”  Well, I am here to tell you that whatever you think your dream is now, it will probably change.  And that’s okay.”

“At the end of my final program with NBC, just before signing off, I said, “Work hard, be kind, and amazing things will happen.”

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