Comedian and late-night talk-show host Conan O’Brien ’85 addressed the Harvard College Class of ’20 Thursday as part of an afternoon of virtual ceremonies that captured the joy, poignancy, and humor of the day.
Acknowledging the less-than-ideal scenario of celebrating via Zoom until an in-person Commencement is safe, O’Brien hammed it up, opening with archival footage of cheering crowds, stunt-flying fighter jets, blasting cannons, and a water-saluting tugboat celebrating his speech.
“As you sit here today, or stand, or microwave a burrito, or ride a Peloton, or recline uncomfortably in your childhood bed, or mine Bitcoin, or Google ‘Who is Conan O’Brien?,’ you are witnessing many firsts in today’s ceremony,” O’Brien said in a message recorded as he stood, attired in T-shirt, shorts, and Birkenstocks, before a podium on his sunny backyard lawn.
A history and literature concentrator and two-time president of The Lampoon, O’Brien thanked Harvard for his honorary degree in “bosonic string theory and condensed-matter physics” (as the words “No idea what he’s talking about” flashed underneath) and gave a shout-out to the day’s true heroes, the IT department. (“Really nice compression, guys. Beautiful, very little buffering.”)
He acknowledged that the ceremonies were not typical but that all involved were doing their best to make up for it. “Trust me, we are taking steps to make today’s Commencement feel as authentic as possible,” he joked. “In fact, right now, Harvard is charging each of you $50 for parking in Cambridge.”