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Seth Meyers charms Class of 2016

Complete video and text of his address to grads

- Following is the complete transcript of Seth Meyers' address to Northwestern graduates and their guests.

Thank you graduating class of 2016 for having me here today. I’d like to start by focusing on me. In saying how excited I am with my new title doctor of arts. Doctor of arts, also known as ‘doctor least requested in an emergency.’ Is there a doctor on the plane? I’m a doctor! Of arts.

Sit down sir.

I believe you meant “sit down, doctor.”

I should say, I’m not the most excited about my new title. My wife’s family is Jewish and her mother is so happy that she can finally tell people her daughter married a doctor. This is for you Joanne! 

I also can’t tell you how nice it is to be on stage where I am, without question, the dumbest person. For example, Richard P. Lifton behind me pioneered the use of human genetics to understand diseases, but I just made a joke about my mother-in-law. 

True story, I was telling this to someone in preparing for this: I was thinking back to the two science classes that I took at Northwestern. That were required. My freshman year, I took a class called “Earth as a Planet.” I got a C.

Spring quarter of my senior year I realized I hadn’t taken the second one so I took a class called “Intro to Geology.” Halfway through the first class I realized it was the class “Earth as a Planet” that had been renamed “Intro to Geology.” So yeah, I got that second C.

It’s also an honor to share the stage with my fellow degree recipients and an even greater honor to share with recipients of distinguished secondary teacher awards. So wonderful to be up here with you. 

My mother was a public school teacher. I have so much respect for what you do.

I certainly wouldn’t be here today if it wasn’t for my teachers both before and during my time at Northwestern. In fact, in preparing for this, I recall a professor of mine here, Paul Edwards, who had a huge, huge impact on my life. 

I realized I never told him that, so this week I emailed him my thanks.

He very touchingly wrote back, “New email. Who ‘dis?”

I’m just kidding.

He didn’t write back. 

I cannot express to you how special it is to be at this place today. Forty-two years ago, I was born down the street at Evanston Hospital.

Twenty years ago I graduated in this very same spot and today I speak to you. Basically every 20 years or so a major life event happens to me on Central Street, which is why I’m so looking forward to 2036 when I finally start my dream job at Mustard’s Last Stand.

Thank you for the honor of speaking to you today.

While I’m excited to be here, I’ll admit I was hesitant to accept when I was first asked. Hesitant because I honestly didn’t know if I was up to the challenge of imparting you with words of wisdom on this incredibly momentous and well-earned day of your life. 

But then I thought back to my commencement 20 years ago. I was sitting where you are and the legendary Robert Redford was standing here. What made me think I could do this was looking back on that day, I realized I don’t remember a single word Robert Redford said. And that was Robert Redford. 

What chance is there that you will remember a single word I tell you today? And mind you, I remember a ton of other things about that day. I remember I walked here wearing Ray Bans and carrying a bottle of champagne. 

I remember my brother Josh, a Northwestern sophomore at the time, was on crutches and had a long stringy ponytail. In his defense it was 1996 when a long stringy ponytail was also a terrible look.

I remember being so overwhelmed by the commencement that my least emotional friend started crying really hard. Like really hard. He was crying so hard we thought we had to take him to a doctor. I don’t want to use names because I don’t want to embarrass him but his nickname was Bags. And we called him Bags because his name was Dave Baggalore.

I remember the night of my commencement, friends and I were celebrating and listening to Bruce Springsteen’s “Thunder Road” over and over again. Not because we think Evanston is full of losers, but because we loved screaming “I’m pulling out of here to win!”

We played it so many times that the graduate student who lived across the hall screamed at us to turn it down. I also remember telling him ‘you grad students think you’re better than me. But you’re not. And tonight you can suck it.’

Being older, I’d just like to say to that grad student, in reflection, you were in fact, better than me. But in my defense, I was drunk. I had just graduated. So you can suck it.

What I’m getting at is my words won’t be what stays with you from today. Today is a culmination of your journey, your achievement.

So while I am speaking, I invite you to drift off. And remember your favorite parts of the last four years. Remember what you accomplished, what you overcame and the fun you had. And the people you met because that’s what will stay with you. 

I won’t be insulted. In fact later, when your degrees are being conferred I promise that I too will drift off and pay no attention to that. Because another thing I remember about my commencement is these things can be too long and kind of boring.

I also remember — and I’m so glad they haven’t fixed it — for a school full of very smart people, they still sit everyone who is about to graduate facing the hot, hot sun, when it’s at its highest point.

I’m not the only one here you will forget. In time, you will forget everyone on this stage. Petty much the only person you will remember will be president of the alumni association, Kathryn Mlsna.

I can tell you from experience, Northwestern alumni relations WILL STAY IN YOUR LIFE. You are going to discover in your post-graduate years that those in charge of alumni relations truly are the Liam Neesons of collegiate life.  They will look for you. They will find you. And you better have that checkbook out. Kathryrn Mlsna has a very specific set of skills.

I still had to write this speech. I didn’t know if I should start with an outline, write a first graph I could show to colleagues or talk to other people who have given commencement speeches in the past.

Instead I decided to honor the kind of student I was at Northwestern: Wait until the last minute, pull an all-nighter and pull this bad boy out. Mess with the margins and use a big old font. 

President Schapiro has probably had his script locked in since March.

But as of Monday, I had notes on a legal pad that consisted of the words, “something about following your dream, maybe?”

Funny, when I started at SNL, the most important skill was writing under deadline.

I realized all my Northwestern procrastinating had actually been practice. I wasn’t procrastinating at all, I was propractice-ating You might say that’s not a word but I think I should know because, remember, I’m a doctor of arts.

Just be thankful I have a script. I was in the Mee-Ow Show. I did consider improvising. Can I get a suggestion of a location you can see yourself in 10 years?

I learned to love to write here. So talking about Northwestern wouldn’t be hard for me, not a day goes by when I don’t think about my time at Northwestern.

So I can sincerely tell you this: You will leave here with knowledge and a diploma, but what will endure the longest are your friends. I am so close to the people I went to Northwestern with. I can tell you it’s great to be 42 and still be friends with people you knew when you were 18. 

So today is the day to look around your group of friends and identify the people you want to be around the rest of your lives. Also, while you’re at it, look around and identify the friend who is kind of a dud because today is as good a time as any to cut ties. And trust me every group of college friends has a dud. If you’re looking around and saying ‘not my group of friends,’ that’s probably because you’re the dud. That’s just real talk.

I can also tell you, 20 years from now, 30 years from now, maybe even 40 years from now, the day will come when you pay off the last of your student loans. I can tell you one of the benefits of going to Northwestern, unlike an Ivy League graduate, people will think you’re smart without immediately thinking you’re also pretentious.  

Unless that person went to the University of Illinois. And in that case they will think you’re incredibly pretentious.

I thought it would also be nice today to share an inspirational speech, and since Northwestern is on the quarter system and this is the last commencement of any major university, I realized I could steal a quote from another 2016 commencement speaker.

Like Michelle Obama said to the City College of New York graduates, “We know our greatness comes when we appreciate each other's strengths, when we learn from each other, when we lean on each other.”

Or Lin-Manuel Miranda who told the graduates of the University of Pennsylvania: “I know many of you made miracles happen to get to this day. I know that parents, grandparents, aunts and uncles behind you made miracles happen to be here.”

But I think my favorite inspiration quote came from Donald Trump who said to the graduates of Trump University, “If you want your money back, you’re gonna have to sue me. You losers.” 

On a serious note, I can tell you it’s often frustrating to be the age you are now and nothing can be more frustrating to you than explaining yourself and ideas to older peple. So when making your arguments, please be patient with us. You are going to be right about a great many things before we are. And we are slow on the uptake sometimes. For example, I might never figure out Snapchat. And I am just going to have to be OK with that. 

At the same time, don’t let older generations blame you for what they see as the problems of the world. You are too young for any of this to be your fault. You have a good decade before any of this is on you. My only advice is: use those 10 years well.

Remember the worst things that happen in this country don’t happen because of hate or rage or fear. They happen because of apathy so I encourage you to be people of action, to do the most you can, while remembering the least you can do is vote. So vote. This election.

And speaking of different generations, I’m a new father. I have a three-month old son. One of the other reasons I agreed to do this is I’d like him to come here one day and based on everything I’ve seen from him in the first 12 weeks, I just don’t think he’s going to have the grades.

For real, he just goes to the bathroom whenever. I can’t see him nailing the interview.

All joking aside, I love this school. I truly believe I would never have been on Saturday Night Live and would never have hosted a talk show if it hadn’t been for time at Northwestern because when I performed in the Mee-Ow Show and people laughed, I thought I just might possibly be funny because these people are smart.

You’ve been surrounded by the best for the last four years and there’s no better favor you can give yourself than continuing to do that. Every success I’ve had in my life has been thanks to the people around me.

But more than anything Northwestern gave me, with regard to my career and my friendships is the fact that I wouldn’t physically be anywhere if it wasn’t for Northwestern. In 1967 two freshmen met here: an engineering major from Pittsburgh named Larry Meyers and a theater major from Marblehead, Mass., named Hilary Olson. Those freshmen would go on to be my parents. They met in a poetry class. And my mother still remembers the first thing my father said to her: 

“Let’s make a baby who will one day speak at commencement.”

And she said to him: “Will they remember his speech?”

And he said "no."

So Northwestern has always been family to me. My brother went here. My parents went here. And if he ever gets his act together, so will my son, but I’m not holding my breath.

This day is ostensibly about education but it’s really about families and everything they did to help you get to this point. As you move on in life, family will mean more to you than you can possibly imagine.

Even if, like me, you marry someone who did not go to Northwestern, who thinks the amount you talk about the school is dumb, and that purple is not really your color, you’ll still value your family over everything.

I value my diploma, but I love my wife because unlike my diploma, I know where my wife currently is. Maybe in my parents' attic. The diploma.

Most importantly, above all else, always remember that no matter what you accomplish in your life, you always will be able to say that you went to Northwestern University when Welsh-Ryan was shitty.

And I end it with that because last week Northwestern sent me the full script of today’s remarks. And even though I had them in mind and I saw the next thing that President Schapiro is scripted to say is “Thank you Seth for those inspiring words” and I wanted to see if he would still say them.

So with only a few hours left to go with this (DONS FUNNY GLASSES), I am going to put on my glasses and pay close attention, wide awake, to what will I’m sure be a scintillating ceremony.

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