The lowlights from Ben Sasse’s dreadful commencement speech

Nebraska Senator Ben Sasse, apparently jealous of Barack Obama, decided to deliver a seven-minute “commencement speech” that was supposed to be funny.

It wasn’t funny. It was sad.

If you’re a high school senior, class of 2020, I’m betting it struck you as particularly awful.

Sasse, who couldn’t be bothered to shave, put on a jacket, or fasten his tie properly, is apparently hoping that “jokes” in terrible taste are going to cheer up the graduating high school seniors. Here’s are some samples:

Congratulations graduates, this is a big moment. Not on graduating high school, but on making the journey down the stairs from your bedroom to the living room and putting on something slightly more formal than sweatpants.

We [parents] are all teachers now and let’s be honest, at the start of this most parents thought we would be visionary math teachers changing the world, but after about two weeks we all just decided to default into gym teachers. I’m kidding, my dad was a gym teacher. I’m serious, he used to teach English and social studies but he always aspired to get to gym so he didn’t have to put on formal clothes every day and he could wear the same sort of sweats that most your wore on the bottom half down here anyway. But anyway, I know Dad, gym is important. If you’re watching Dad, as if he’s watching, . . . like all grandparents there’s no chance he can get Zoom to work . . .

We are gonna beat the virus. We’ve got five different American pharmaceutical companies doing amazing research to develop a vaccine.
We’re gonna have to have a serious reckoning with the thugs in China who let this mess spiral out of control by lying about it.

I know I’m not supposed to say this but you’re not missing out on that much because honestly nobody, and by nobody I mean nobody, remembers anything about their high school graduation. In fact a lot of us spend a lot of our lives trying to forget as much about high school as we possibly can. . . . In fact there are a whole bunch of people who make a whole bunch of money but trying to help other people forget high school. They’re called psychologists. In fact 95% of all gainfully employed psychologists, and I’m serious there are dozens of them that are gainfully employed, their job is really just to help people forget high school, and the other 5% they just research hamsters who got lost in mazes, which come to think of it is a lot like high school. . . . There will always be money to be made in psychology. Now that’s a joke, do not, if you’re headed to college, do not major in psychology, that part’s not a joke.

We haven’t even started talking about murder hornets yet. That’s right, murder hornets. Now I know what you’re thinking, it’s not the murder hornets’ fault, if an insect grows up being called a murder hornet, you can’t be surprised when they actually start ripping the heads off of honeybees. I get it, that’s a pretty good point, we all sort of do grow into our names and by the way that’s why everybody named Jeremy is the worst. Sorry Jeremy, not my fault, blame your mom and dad.

Leaders can be funny. But don’t do this.

A few impressions.

Commencement speeches can be funny. But they shouldn’t be a joke.

Dress for the occasion. Try to inspire. At least a little bit. This is an important day in people’s lives, and if those people are high school seniors right now, they are suffering.

Slamming grandparents, gym teachers, psychologists, and people named “Jeremy” isn’t actually all that witty.

If you have questions about whether your jokes are funny, try them on somebody.

And finally: It’s a terrifying moment for all of us. If you are a leader, it’s fine if you want to drop a joke or two, but please attempt to show some leadership and inspire us — not with vague promises that somehow keep turning out to be false, but with truth.

Here’s the speech. Don’t say I didn’t warn you.

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  1. But Trump and his ways have no effect on people. When he slams people, other people don’t follow his lead. When he lies about things like the pandemic being China’s fault and that there will be a vaccine widely distributed by end of 2020, it doesn’t lead to other weak leaders doing similarly. I mean, nobody believes much he says anyway; right!?

    This is just one, albeit small (in more ways than one) result of the slide we US citizens have brought upon ourselves. Sigh.

  2. Just wow. Unbelievable that a sitting US Senator would think this is a time to joke, and to make his entire speech a joke. Curious to know if this is something he just decided to do off the cuff after he saw the fabulous 2020 graduation party on TV that culminated in Obama’s inspiring speech? Sad. Agree with Tim above, what a slide to the gutter we see on a daily basis.

  3. I saw this and thought, “Is this satire? This can’t be real.” It wasn’t funny, it wasn’t clever, it was painful. So painful.

  4. I love the samples you provided. So much better (and real) than the canned and trite, cliches speeches most of us heard and promptly forgot.

    In fact, the only one I remember was for the wrong reason–1985 graduation of two of my best friends in the suburbs of Wershington, DC and Ballmur, MD and a Ballmur TV news anchor (remember those folks?!) told us about her kid’s suicide. I do not think she could have been any worst if she tried. But, it has stuck in my head for 35 years. I will never get those four hours back.

    And at least he is funnier than the sad lot of folks hosting late-night shows (I assume those are still a thing, but have no idea why; I do remember when those shows were funny).

    Are there any graduation speeches that are worth remembering? Dick’s Cargo Cult at CalTech, perhaps.