Life lessons are a lot easier to digest when they’re offered up by one of the world’s funniest people
When you hire Will Ferrell to serve as the commencement speaker for your college, you should safely assume things are going to get goofy. Ferrell is among the most famous and vocal USC alumni, and, on Friday, he imparted not just his humor, but a healthy dose of wisdom for the graduating class of 2017 in his speech, sending the young adults off to brave the “real world.”
There’s no substitute for the content the entire speech provides, so if you’ve got 25 minutes and a desire to get the full experience, here it is in its uncut glory.
Should you want to cut straight to the highlights, we’ve pulled seven quotes that prove Ferrell offered up as much wisdom and inspiration as he did laughs.
In case there were people in attendance who didn’t know who Will Ferrell was, he offered a self-deprecating CV to get things rolling (transcription via Time):
And then there’s me. Will Ferrell, whose achievements include running naked through the city of Montrose in Old School. Montrose in the house, alright. Running around in my underwear and racing helmet, thinking that I’m on fire as Ricky Bobby in Talladega Nights. Running around in Elf tights eating gum off the ground and playing cowbell. I think my fellow doctorates would agree, based on our achievements, we are all on equal footing.
He also let the audience know that the honorary doctorate he received is not something he takes lightly from his beloved alma mater:
I want the university to know that I do not take this prestigious honor lightly. I’ve already instructed my wife and my children, from this point on, they have to address me as Dr. Ferrell. There will be no exceptions. Especially at our children’s various school functions and when opening Christmas presents. ‘Yay, we got the new Xbox. Thank you Dad! I mean, Dr. Ferrell.’
I’ve been informed that I can now perform minimally invasive surgery at any time or any place, even if people don’t want it. In fact, I am legally obligated to perform minor surgery at the end of today’s ceremonies, or my doctor’s degree will be revoked.
The funnyman also shared, as celebrated commencement speakers so often do, their rocky road to success. It started with a useless Sports Information degree:
Those of us with Sports Information degrees are an elite group. We are like the Navy Seals of USC graduates. There are very few of us and there was a high dropout rate.
So I graduate and I immediately get a job right out of college working for ESPN, right? Wrong. No, I moved right back home. Back home to the mean streets of Irvine, California. Yes. Irvine always gets that response. Pretty great success story, right? Yeah, I moved back home for a solid two years, I might add. And I was lucky, actually. Lucky that I had a very supportive and understanding mother, who is sitting out there in the crowd, who let me move back home. And she recognized that while I had an interest in pursuing sportscasting, my gut was telling me that I really wanted to pursue something else.
He spoke of the unspoken emotion that probably coursed through the veins of the grads, occupying the back of their mind during the celebratory events: fear.
And yes, I was afraid. You’re never not afraid. I’m still afraid. I was afraid to write this speech. And now, I’m just realizing how many people are watching me right now, and it’s scary. Can you please look away while I deliver the rest of the speech?
But my fear of failure never approached in magnitude my fear of what if. What if I never tried at all?
While there’s no doubt that Ferrell’s a Hollywood success story, he was careful to qualify “success” as a concept that has no universal meaning.
No matter how cliché it may sound, you will never truly be successful until you learn to give beyond yourself. Empathy and kindness are the true signs of emotional intelligence, and that’s what Viv and I try to teach our boys. Hey Matthias, get your hands of Axel right now! Stop it. I can see you. Ok? Dr. Ferrell’s watching you.
He then addressed his audience, both those who have a plan and those who don’t:
To those of you graduates sitting out there who have a pretty good idea of what you’d like to do with your life, congratulations. For many of you who maybe don’t have it all figured out, it’s ok. That’s the same chair that I sat in. Enjoy the process of your search without succumbing to the pressure of the result. Trust your gut, keep throwing darts at the dartboard. Don’t listen to the critics and you will figure it out.
Let’s end the commencement analysis with this, which might be worth the astronomical cost of a private school degree all by itself:
Taken holistically, this might be his greatest performance since Anchorman.