Stephen Colbert Speaks at University of Virginia's Commencement

May 20, 2013

'Tis the season for college commencement speeches -- and the media's reporting on them. From President Barack Obama's Morehouse College address to Twitter CEO Dick Costolo's speech at the University of Michigan, pundits analyzed which speakers were the best or most inspiring. One address generating a lot of discussion was not an official commencement speech at all, and was not given by a politician or successful businessperson, but by a comedian: Stephen Colbert.

The Washington Post named Stephen Colbert's University of Virginia address this weekend among the five best commencement speeches of 2013 (so far). The speech was part of the school's Valedictory Exercises held the night before the official commencement ceremonies. The comedian -- perhaps best known for satirical political punditry on Comedy Central's "The Colbert Report" -- covered a wide breadth of topics, and did not shy away from controversy.

Colbert also lampooned the widely covered events of last year in which U.Va.'s governing board ousted and then reinstated the school's popular president, as reported in a separate article by The Washington Post. "Thank you very much, President Sullivan," Colbert quipped. "You are way better than that last president, Teresa Sullivan. She was terrible. I am so glad that they cut her loose. Good riddance, I say!"

The Washington Post notes that this is not the only line to get laughs: Colbert referenced the institution's high rankings, including being named one of the biggest party schools in the nation. He made jokes about the University's founder, Thomas Jefferson, or "Prez Tommy Jeff," as he called him, and sent a live Twitter update from the stage. He even performed a trick in which he folded his ear in and popped it back out by squinting.

The Daily Mail reports that Colbert also took on a recent study defining this generation of graduates as the "Me, me, me generation." Colbert jested that the report must be very upsetting to Baby Boomers like him, because "self-absorption is kind of our thing."

"We took all the money. We soaked up all the government services," said Colbert, as reported by the Daily Mail. "It may seem that all that's left for you is unpaid internships, Monday to Tuesday mail delivery, and soon thanks to global warming, soon Semester at Sea will mean sailing the coast of Ohio."

Colbert also took the opportunity to give graduates some serious advice: "You may learn sooner than most generations the hard lesson that you must always make the path for yourself," he said. "…so if you must find your own path and we have left you no easy path, decide now to choose the hard path that leads to the life and the world that you want."

Colbert has a history with U.Va. According to UVA Today, the comedian tried to transfer there from another Virginia school in 1984, but was rejected when he failed to submit an essay with his application. His wife, Evelyn McGee Colbert, is a U.Va. graduate.

Compiled by Aimee Hosler


"Colbert Entertains Class of 2013 and Even Sprinkles in Some Advice,", May 18, 2013, Anne E. Bromley

"Five of the best 2013 commencement speeches (so far),", May 19, 2013, Valerie Strauss

"Stephen Colbert to UVA graduates: 'Choose the hard path,'", May 18, 2013, Jenna Johnson

"'You're so self-obsessed!': Stephen Colbert holds no punches in speech to University of Virginia grads,", May 19, 2013, Joshua Gardner

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