The Comedy Central funnyman donned a purple cap and gown for a second time – following his own Northwestern graduation in 1986 – in delivering the commencement address to the university’s class of 2011.
Tailoring the speech to a Northwestern-centric audience, he invoked his own experiences at the school. And in taking a cue from his eponymous television character Stephen Colbert, he made a few quips that walked the fine line of his self-created “truthiness.” Colbert claimed that his 1986 diploma from the university’s theater school was actually a piece of yellow paper inscribed with the words “See Me.” (Colbert did indeed graduate that day in 1986.) He later laughed while explaining the Chicago-area school, notorious for bitter winters, called a snow day this year, recounting the 1985 day he endured a -83° wind chill at the school.
(LIST: Top 10 Stephen Colbert Moments)
Proving he’s still in touch with the college’s latest scandals, he spliced in some recent controversies that have drawn national attention – calling particular attention to a rather graphic demonstration in a Human Sexuality course, and mocking the outdated city ordinance that Evanston, Ill. attempted to reinforce this year, which would have banned more than three unrelated people from living together in the same house or apartment.
But when it came time to be “meaningful,” as he put it, Colbert laid advice on the new graduates with a healthy combination of humility and humor. “You are what some have called the greatest generation – not many, but some. So far just me. I’m counting on you to not make me look like an idiot by saying it,” he said, eliciting laughter from the crowd. “So be great, no pressure.”
“You have been told to follow your dreams,” he told the audience of 2,800 graduating students. “But what if it’s a stupid dream?” He continued: “If we all stuck with our first dream, the world would be overrun with cowboys and princesses.”
His message of inspiration continued as he apologized for being “predictable,” capping off the speech with the message to graduates to love and serve others, as it’s that mission that will foster a common good in society. Who knew the red-blooded Colbert, at least the one we know from television, could actually be quite humble?