Stephen Colbert: Comedian Jokes Through UVA Graduation Speech


Stephen Colbert made a speech at UVA Saturday for its class of 2013 Valedictory Exercises. He began by saying:

"I believe that means I am this year's valedictorian and I am as shocked as you are because I didn't make it to many classes this year."

Like many keynote speeches made by late-night entertainers (such as Conan O’Brien’s speech to Harvard in 2000), the first half of his speech was constructed like a comedic monologue and then became a bit sagely towards the second half of the speech (as sagely as entertainers can be, anyways). Colbert made jokes about topics relevant to the institution, such as Thomas Jefferson’s numerous affairs with slaves, UVA being ranked as Playboy’s number one public party college, and the seven society.

Colbert also revealed that he applied to UVA in the spring of 1984, but was rejected for forgetting to submit his college essay:

“You know this is an impressive institution because it rejected my application. Yes, in the spring of 1984 I applied as a transfer student, and at the time you could submit your essay after the rest of your application. Apparently the admission board took issue with the content of my essay, which was none, because I never sent it. So today, President Sullivan, I would like to submit this address as my essay. Since this is a smart school, let me just toss in some SAT words: syzygy, heterodox, Benedict Cumberbatch. Am I in?

During second half of his speech, Colbert became more serious, touching on the tough economy, fewer job opportunities, and less traditional career paths new grads are faced with. He ended on a message of hope while quoting playwright Robert Bolt:

“ … To quote Robert Bolt, ‘Society has no more idea of what you are, than you do, because ultimately it has only your brains to think with. Every generation must define itself to make a world that suits itself ...’ So if you must find your own path, and you are left with no easy path, then decide to take the hard path that leads you to the life and the world that you want.”