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Thank you President Cowen, uh Mrs. President Cowen, uh
distinguished guest, undistinguished guest, you know who you are.
Honored faculty and creepy Spanish teachers so…
And thank you to all the graduating class of 2009,
I realize that most of you are hungover,
and having splitting headaches and haven’t slept yet since fat Tuesday
but you can’t graduate ‘till I finish so listen up.
When I was asked to make the commencement speech,
I immediately said yes.
Then I went to look up what commencement meant,
which would have been easy if I had a dictionary
but most of the books in our house are
Portia’s and they’re all written in Australian.
So I had to break the word down myself,
to find out the meaning – commencement.
Common and cement, commencement.
You commonly see cement on sidewalks.
Sidewalks have cracks and if you step on the crack,
you break your mother’s back.
So there’s that.
But I’m honored that you’ve asked me here to speak at your common cement.
I thought that you had to be a famous alumnus, alumni, aluminum, alumis.
You had to graduate from this school.
And I didn’t go to college, uh, here.
And this, I don’t know of President Cowen knows
I didn’t go to college at all – any college.
And I’m not saying you wasted your time or money
but look at me, I’m a huge celebrity.
Although I did graduate from the school of hard knocks,
our mascot was the knockers.
I spent a lot of time here growing up.
My mom worked at Newcomb.
And I go there every time I needed to steal something out of her purse.
But why am I here today?
Clearly not to steal.
You're too far away and I'd never get away with it.
I’m here because of you.
Because I can't think of a more tenacious,
more courageous graduating class.
I mean, look at you all, wearing your robes.
Usually when you're wearing a robe at 10 in the morning,
it means you've given up.
I'm here because I love New Orleans.
I was born and raised here,
I spent my formative years here,
and like you, while I was living here,
I only did laundry six times.
When I finished school, I was completely lost.
And by school, I mean middle school,
but I went ahead and finished high school anyway.
And I - I really, I had no ambition,
I didn't know what I wanted to do.
I did everything from —
I shucked oysters, I was a hostess,
I was a bartender, I was a waitress,
I painted houses, I sold vacuum cleaners,
I had no idea.
And I thought I'd just finally settle in some job,
and I would make enough money to pay my rent,
maybe have basic cable, maybe not,
I didn't really have a plan,
my point is that by the time I was your age,
I really thought I knew who I was,
but I, I had no idea.
Like for example, when I was your age,
I was dating men.
So what I'm saying is,
when you're older, most of you will be gay.
Is anybody writing this stuff down?
Anyway, I had no idea what I wanted to do with my life,
and the way I ended up on this path
was from a very tragic event.
I was, uh, maybe 19,
and my girlfriend at the time was killed in a car accident.
And I passed the accident,
and I didn't know it was her and I kept going,
and I found out shortly after that, it was her.
And I was living in a basement apartment,
I had no money, I had no heat,
no air, I had a mattress on the floor
and the apartment was infested with fleas.
And I was soul-searching, I was like,
why is she suddenly gone,
and there are fleas here?
I don't understand,
there must be a purpose,
and wouldn't it be so convenient
if we could pick up the phone and call God,
and ask these questions.
And I started writing
and what poured out of me was an
imaginary conversation with God,
which was one-sided,
and I finished writing it
and I looked at it and I said to myself,
and I hadn't even been doing stand-up ever,
there was no club in town.
I said, "I'm gonna do this on the Tonight Show With Johnny Carson”.
At the time he was the king,
"and I'm gonna be the first woman in the history of the show to be called over to sit down."
And several years later,
I was the first woman in the history of the show,
and only woman in the history of the show to sit down
because of that phone conversation with God that I wrote.
And I started this path of stand-up
and it was successful
and it was great,
but it was hard,
because I was trying to please everybody
and I had this secret that I was keeping that I was gay.
And I thought if people found out they wouldn't like me,
they wouldn't laugh at me.
Then my career turned into uh,
I got my own sitcom,
and uh, that was very successful —
another level of success.
And I thought what if they find out I'm gay,
then they'll never watch,
and uh, this was a long time ago,
probably this was when we just had white presidents.
But anyway this was back…
many years ago.
And I finally decided that
I was living with so much shame,
and so much fear,
that I just couldn't live that way anymore,
and I decided to come out and make it creative.
And my character would come out at the same time,
and it wasn't to make a political statement,
it wasn't to do anything other than to free myself of —
from this heaviness that I was carrying around.
And I just wanted to be honest.
And I thought of what’s the worst that could happen,
I can lose my career.
I did.
I lost my career.
I got…
The show was cancelled after six years
without even telling me.
I read it in the paper.
Uhm, the phone didn’t ring for three years.
I had no offers.
Nobody wanted to touch me at all.
Uhm and yet, I was getting letters from kids
that almost committed suicide,
but didn’t because of what I did.
And I realized that I had a purpose.
And it wasn’t just about me
and it wasn’t about celebrity,
but I felt like I was being punished
and it was a bad time.
I was angry, I was sad,
and then I was offered a talk show.
And the people who had offered me the talk show
tried to sell it.
And most stations didn’t want to pick it up.
Most people didn’t want to buy it
because they thought nobody would watch me.
And uh, really when I look back on it,
I wouldn’t change a thing.
I mean, it was so important for me
to lose everything because I found out what (what) the most important thing is,
is to be true to yourself.
And uh, ultimately, that’s what’s gotten me to this place.
I don’t live in fear,
I’m free.
I have no secrets
and I know I’ll always be okay
because no matter what I know who I am.
So in conclusion,
when I was younger I thought success uh,
was something different.
I thought when I grow up,
I want to be famous.
I want to be a star.
I want to be in movies.
When I grow up I want to see the world,
drive nice cars, I want to have groupies.
To quote the Pussycat Dolls.
How many people thought it was “boobies”, by the way?
It’s not, it’s “groupies”.
But my idea of success is different today.
And as you grow,
you’ll realize the definition of success changes.
For many of you, today,
success is being able to hold down 20 shots of tequila.
For me, the most important thing in your life
is to live your life with integrity
and not to give into peer pressure to try
to be something that you’re not.
To live your life as an honest and compassionate person,
to contribute in some way.
So to conclude my conclusion,
follow your passion,
stay true to yourself.
Never follow someone else’s path,
unless you’re in the woods and you’re lost
and you see a path then by all means you should follow that.
Uhm, don’t give advice,
it will come back and bite you in the ass.
Don’t take anyone’s advice.
So my advice to you is to
be true to yourself
and everything will be fine.
And I know that a lot of you are concerned about your future,
but there’s no need to worry.
The economy is booming,
the job market is wide open.
The planet is just fine.
It’s going be great.
You’ve already survived a hurricane.
What else can happen to you?
And as I mentioned before,
some of the most devastating things that happen to you
will teach you the most.
And now you know the right questions to ask in your first job interview.
Like, “Is it above sea level?”
So to conclude my conclusion that I’ve previously concluded,
in the common cement speech,
I guess what I’m trying to say is:
life is like one big Mardi Gras.
But instead of showing your boobs,
show people your brain,
and if they like what they see,
you’ll have more beads than you know what to do with.
And you’ll be drunk,
most of the time.
So the Katrina class of 2009,
I say congratulations
and if you don’t remember a thing I said today,
remember this,
you’re going to be okay.
Dum de dum dum dum,
just dance.
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Ellen DeGeneres at Tulane's Commencement Speech

46006 Folder Collection
Go Tutor published on August 29, 2014
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