Comedy lights up 134th Commencement

Jay Leno - 2014 Emerson College Commencement Address

Jay Leno '73 receives a Doctor of Humane Letters and provides the undergraduate address at Emerson's 134th Commencement.

By Dan O'Brien
May 12, 2014

Jokes and jabs were themes at Emerson College’s 134th Commencement on May 11, which featured Jay Leno ’73 as the undergraduate commencement speaker, but the upbeat ceremonies also offered reflection and thanks to those who brought us into this world: our mothers.

“Mothers and grandmothers, we salute you today,” President Lee Pelton said in his address before thousands at the Boston University Agganis Arena on Mother’s Day. “We thank you for your precious and enduring and unconditional love.”

Lemon, Pelton

Don Lemon, CNN anchor, receives a Doctor of Humane Letters from Emerson President Lee Pelton at the 134th Commencement on May 11, 2014. (Photo by Frank Monkiewicz)

After sharing laughs with honorary degree recipients Leno and Don Lemon of CNN, with whom Pelton took a “selfie” to roaring applause, Pelton shared how his mother and grandmother shaped him into the man he is—saying his mother never said an unkind word about anyone.

“[My grandmother] taught me at an early age that nothing on Earth, save family, is more precious than a good education,” he said, “and I have made education my life’s work.”

Lemon wiped away tears as he was awarded his degree, which prompted Pelton to say, “I love you, man.”

Lemon

Don Lemon sheds tears before receiving a Doctor of Humane Letters at the 134th Emerson College Commencement as Michaele Whelan, chief academic officer, looks on. (Photo by Frank Monkiewicz)

Then—in the spirit of comedy—the newscaster said he wanted to approach his acceptance speech as a roast to Leno, the former host of NBC’s Tonight Show.

“Couldn’t Emerson have gotten someone with a job!?” Lemon said.

Leno

Jay Leno '73 gives the address during the undergraduate ceremony at Emerson College's 134th Commencement. (Photo by Frank Monkiewicz)

“I want to thank Don Lemon,” Leno said after receiving his Doctor of Humane Letters, “for taking the time out to keep looking for that airplane to be here today,” referring to CNN’s oft-criticized coverage of the Malaysia Airlines disaster.

The funnyman said he is “stunned” and “still can’t believe” he’s a college graduate because as someone with dyslexia, he was “a terrible student.”

Leno

Jay Leno '73 posing for a selfie with Srda Vasiljevic '14, who gave the undergraduate student address. (Photo by Frank Monkiewicz)

“One day a guidance counselor at my high school called my mom and said, ‘Have you ever thought about taking Jay out of school? You know, education is not for everyone,’” Leno said. The counselor then suggested Leno study at McDonald’s famed Hamburger University.

He said getting into Emerson was his last hope after dropping out of an accounting program at another local college. “It was the first time in my life that being funny didn’t get me into trouble,” Leno said of studying at Emerson.

Commencement 2014

The 2014 Doctor of Humane Letters recipients (from left): Scott Simon of NPR, Don Lemon of CNN, Jay Leno '73, and Catherine D'Amato of the Greater Boston Food Bank with Emerson President Lee Pelton. (Photo by Frank Monkiewicz)

The Andover, Massachusetts, native then gave graduates his “20 rules of show business in no particular order.” Those rules included: Never go on stage mad because “anger robs creativity”; when you get too comfortable, move on, saying, “you should always try to find the toughest audience”; and to not have a relationship with a partner who “doesn’t get it,” saying, “you need a soulmate, not a cellmate.”

Commencement 2014

The view of Agganis Arena from the stage while Leno addressed the crowd at the 134th Commencement ceremony. (Photo by Frank Monkiewicz)

The laughs, thanks, and comedic advice continued with the senior class commencement address by Srda Vasiljevic ’14, a Performing Arts graduate who began working as an assistant director for the Broadway production Mothers and Sons this year.

Commencement 2014

The Class of 2014 graduates cheer during the undergraduate ceremony. (Photo by Frank Monkiewicz)

“I have a special token of my love and gratitude for my mother,” Vasiljevic said. “I’m going to take you out to Olive Garden after this. And by take you out, I mean you’re going to have to pay for me.”

Vasiljevic’s parting words of advice got big laughs when he said it came from “…quite possibly the greatest late–night talk show host in history…Jimmy Fallon.”

That message was that “you’re allowed to be silly. There’s nothing wrong with it.”

Pelton, Muhammad

President Lee Pelton with Najah Muhammad '14, who received the President's Citation. (Photo by Frank Monkiewicz)

During graduate commencement, speaker and honorary degree recipient Scott Simon, the NPR host who made headlines last summer for tweeting about his elderly mother’s impending death from her hospital room, said, “I was pleased to be able to be with my mother when she died.”

“We reminisced about nothing and everything,” he said.

Simon

Scott Simon of NPR gives the graduate commencement address at the 134th Commencement ceremonies on May 11, 2014. (Photo by Frank Monkiewicz)

Simon told graduates that the experience of losing a loved one compels a person to live life to the fullest.

“Losing those you love will teach you,” he said. “Please look around. Treasure the chance for happiness.”

Also receiving a Doctor of Humane Letters was Catherine D’Amato, CEO of the Greater Boston Food Bank. “Remain engaged with your communities and bring back with you the talent you’ve learned at Emerson,” D’Amato told graduates.

D'Amato

Catherine D'Amato, CEO of the Greater Boston Food Bank, received a Doctor of Humane Letters at the 134th Emerson College Commencement. (Photo by Frank Monkiewicz)

Andi Berger, MA ’14, gave the graduate student address. The Communication Management graduate spoke about volunteering with the Bird Street Community Center.

About 900 bachelor’s degrees and about 300 master’s degrees were conferred at the ceremonies.

Commencement 2014

A Class of 2014 student's graduation cap reads, "Adventure Awaits." (Photo by Frank Monkiewicz)

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