By Ali Arduini
Although it could hardly be considered a traditional commencement speech, Ellen DeGeneres nevertheless effectively delivered her thought-provoking words to the graduating class of 2009 at Tulane University in New Orleans. Not only did the actress and comedian be sure to add many jokes to her speech, but she also ended it by dancing in the audience—this not only captivated her audience but also brought some fun and humor to an otherwise serious ceremony.
DeGeneres began her speech by thanking the audience for their applause: “Thank you President Cowan, Mrs. President Cowan, distinguished guests, undistinguished guests—you know who you are, honored faculty, and creepy Spanish teacher.” DeGeneres used comedy to address her audience, and then went on to make a joke about how the graduating class was probably hungover, but they still had to listen to her speech to graduate.
DeGeneres began the essence of her speech by talking about some of the goals she had at their age. She said she was very content with the idea of settling and had no ambition or goals for herself. DeGeneres, an out gay woman, made her point by saying, “When I was your age I thought I knew who I was but I had no idea. Like, for example, I was dating men.” DeGeneres incorporated humor into the elements of her speech whenever she could; even during her serious topics and points she would find a way to make her audience laugh.
One of these more serious topics was when she spoke about some of her soul-searching, and how she finally gained the drive she needed to land her own television show. After years of denial the actress decided that her character on the show would come out, and that would be how she herself would reveal her true character. She knew that this was a risky move and she was right; after coming out DeGeneres lost everything—sponsor deals, show offers, and essentially everything that was helping her career to move forward. However, she also said that after the incident she received many letters from gay kids saying thank you for preventing themselves from committing suicide. DeGeneres does not regret losing everything because she was able to help others cope, and finally live without fear of who she was.
After sharing her poignant story, DeGeneres went on to tell the students to aim for success, but success that will make themselves happy; she was adamant about the importance of them following their passion, and not letting anyone try to convince them otherwise.
DeGeneres ended her speech with the statement, “Life is like one big Mardi Gras, but instead of showing your boobs show your brain. And if they like what they see you’ll have more beads then you know what to do with.” With that last point, Lady Gaga’s “Just Dance” came on and DeGeneres skipped downstage into the crowd where she began to dance with the graduating class. It certainly was an entertaining commencement speech, and one that will always remain memorable for its listeners.
To see the speech: www.hark.com/clips/wfxbjlpnnh-ellen-degeneres-commencement-speech-at-tulane-university