Conan O’Brien to deliver Commencement address
By Emily Baer, The Dartmouth Staff
Published on Wednesday, May 4, 2011
Comedian and talk show host Conan O’Brien will deliver the Class of 2011 Commencement address on June 12, College President Jim Yong Kim said in an interview with The Dartmouth Editorial Board.
O’Brien, who hosted NBC’s Late Night from 1993 to 2009, currently hosts his self-titled show on TBS weeknights. O’Brien was infamously ousted from his position on NBC’s The Tonight Show in January 2010, just months after succeeding Jay Leno as host in June 2009. O’Brien left the network, which was owned by General Electric at the time, with a settlement of $32.5 million, according to The New York Times.
Kim is a former student of O’Brien’s father, Harvard University infectious disease professor Thomas O’Brien, who currently works at Harvard’s Brigham and Women’s Hospital.
Thomas O’Brien did not respond to requests for comment by press time.
“I just got [Conan O’Brien’s] phone number from his dad and I called him and I said, ‘Conan, would you like to do this?’” Kim said. “And he said that he’d refused every time before, but he feels like now he’s got a lot to say.”
Although College Trustee Jeffrey Immelt ’78 is the chief executive officer of GE, Kim said that O’Brien and Immelt are on good terms.
“You know that Conan had some conflict with NBC and its owner General Electric, but he and [Immelt] are still good friends,” Kim said. “No problem there.”
O’Brien will “hopefully” arrive on campus the Saturday prior to graduation to meet with students, Kim said.
Kim said he hopes that the presence of O’Brien’s parents, who will also attend the address, will ensure that O’Brien delivers a funny but appropriate speech.
“I worry, but that’s why I talked to his father today,” Kim joked. “His father and mother are coming up, they’re going to spend the weekend with us, and so my hope is that with his father and mother in the audience he’s going to do something really funny and not too over the top.”
Stephen Henry Lewis, former Canadian ambassador to the United Nations and former UN Special Envoy for HIV/AIDS to Africa, spoke during the Class of 2010 Commencement. This year’s Commencement will be “less serious” than last year’s, Kim said. "The campus will like him, right? He's still current?" Kim asked the Editorial Board. Conan O’Brien, who attended Harvard as an undergraduate, delivered a speech for Harvard’s Class of 2000 graduation.
“He did Class Day for Harvard in 2000 and it’s just a riot,” Kim said, citing a YouTube video of O’Brien’s speech. “The audience is laughing the whole time.”
In his address to the Harvard Class of 2000, O’Brien focused on the idea that even with a Harvard degree, it is permissible to make mistakes.
“I left the cocoon of Harvard, I left the cocoon of Saturday Night Live, I left the cocoon of The Simpsons,” O’Brien said. “And each time it was bruising and tumultuous. And yet, every failure was freeing, and today I’m as nostalgic for the bad as I am for the good.”
O’Brien graduated from Harvard in 1985 with a degree in American history. He edited The Harvard Lampoon, Harvard’s humor magazine, as an undergraduate and later established his presence in the television industry by writing for Saturday Night Live in 1988. SNL was awarded an Emmy for Outstanding Writing in 1989 before O’Brien left the show to write for The Simpsons in 1991, according to The New York Times.
"The question is, what are we going to do next year now?" Kim said.
The print version of this article ran with the headline "Conan O’Brien will address Class of 2011."
The original article stated that GE owns NBC, when in fact it currently owns 49 percent of the NBC Universal company, according to The New York Times. At the time of O'Brien's settlement, GE fully owned NBC Universal. Comcast purchased NBC from GE in January 2011.