Ty Burrell's Commencement Speech
Thank you President Cullinan
Thank you Miriam Moody for coordinating all of this.
And thank you to the students and all your guests for having me. Its so wonderful to be back in my hometown at my alma mater and such an honor to be with you all here today.
Ah yes, I remember well the feeling of sitting out where you are today 15 years ago. Well, actually, I was standing. And, actually, it was at the bandshell down in the park. And, actually, it was in the middle of the night. I had to MISS the actual graduation ceremony so, INSTEAD, my sister and some friends accompanied me down there in the dark and she handed me my diploma after giving a short and unflattering speech about my life. But, I do remember the QUESTIONS running through my head as I stood out there waiting to receive my diploma, PRIMARILY, when will my sister to stop making fun of me? I would like to attempt to ANSWER some of the questions that MAY be passing through YOUR minds today as you sit out there waiting to begin the next chapter of YOUR life.
Some answers to the questions that MAY be on YOUR minds right now are:
NUMBER 1. YES, this is apparently the best they could do for a commencement address SPEAKER. Let's be honest, our school is small. It was between me and a guy who started a website called CLASSYCATCLOTHES.COM. And I barely edged him out.
NUMBER 2. NO, you don't recognize me. Don't beat yourself up. The only person who thinks I'm famous is my mother and that's because I tell her I am. Please keep that between us.
NUMBER 3. NO, an actor is NOT an appropriate person to give you advice or wisdom about your future. Acting is the least rational career choice anyone could make and the only training I have is in analyzing a CHARACTER for a STORY. In ACTING, we would talk about the OBJECTIVES, OBSTACLES, and TACTICS of a character in a story. For example, if you are graduating with a Theater degree, as I did, and I were going to use my acting training to give you career and life advice I would say: Your OBJECTIVE is: To find any way at all to make a living with a Theater degree. Your OBSTACLES are: You're about to graduate with a Theater degree. Your TACTICS to OVERCOME your Obstacles are: using your newfound acting skills to pretend you don't have a Theater degree. I chose THAT tactic and its worked out well so far. Don't snicker Math and Science people I see you out there. I ran into PLENTY of you guys at my many telemarketing, table waiting, and catering jobs over the years. Well, OK a few of you... OK, none of you but don't rub it in, its not nice.
NUMBER 4. NO, you're not hallucinating. I do have raccoon eyes.
NUMBER 5. I can't answer that one. That's very personal and should be for you and your family to decide. Good luck.
NUMBER 6. YES, you WILL run into the person you had that horrible FLING with somewhere down the road. I've found that it usually happens when you are unbathed and it somehow looks like you're rummaging for cans.
NUMBER 7. NO, I don't know what your future holds. I only know that I RAN from everything that SCARED me right into the ARMS of something that SCARED me even more. When I first started acting up at the University of Oregon I thought. "Wow, I'm actually OK at this. There might actually be an option in my life other than as a connoisseur of 7-11 pump cheese. I may actually have a MISSION in my life." I promptly RAN LIKE HELL from the University of Oregon's gigantic theater department to HIDE at what I THOUGHT would be a second rate, and therefore less pressurized, theater department at SOU. (Which back then was called Southern Oregon State College University College of Southern Oregon, or something like that.) TURNS OUT that the theater department at SOU was far superior to the University of Oregon and was actually of a professional caliber and I LEARNED far more than I had INTENDED. I was THEN told by a family friend, (who was a casting director in LA), that if I MOVED to LA she would show me the ropes and help me to get an agent. I promptly RAN LIKE HELL from that challenge and went to grad school instead, to postpone the terror of the real world. TURNS OUT grad school was the most challenging thing I'd ever done and I LEARNED far more than I had INTENDED. After graduation my friends all were headed to New York City to start their life's adventure in the Theater Mecca of America.
I promptly RAN LIKE HELL from that adventure and headed off to a tiny regional theater where I planned to hide till I retired. TURNS OUT regional work is as grueling, and as good, as any other theater in the US and, OF COURSE, I LEARNED far, far more than I had INTENDED. I finally gave up, after being mocked so regularly by fate, and just moved to New York City. The only sense I can make out of all that to pass on to you is that you should PURSUE what you RESIST, because eventually what you resist will just hunt you down like a dog and beat you into submission anyway. Its more just
a time saver. (That does not, by the way, include fire. Continue to resist fire.)
NUMBER 8. NO, the government doesn't think its as funny as you do when you don't pay back your student loans. If you're not planning on paying them back I would look into buying some land up in Shady Cove and stocking up on canned goods.
NUMBER 9. YES, it is time to make the four bedroom house you live in, a four person occupancy. Which means you're going to need to ask three of your roommates to leave. I recommend the big eaters. I know from experience that you didn't just eat the yogurt faster than you thought you did over the past four years. It was the big dude with the yogurt mustache who wouldn't look you in the eye. I know he's your brother but he's gotta go.
NUMBER 10. YES, you are going to gain some weight. At one point when I didn't adjust my eating habits to go along with entering my 30's my brother broke the news to me like this. "If teeter totter was a competition, you would win. Over everyone."
NUMBER 11. Yes, this list goes to 11. YES, it DOES always seem to work out in the end. My dad used to sit out on our porch, up the hill on Church St. above the plaza, and look out on the world beyond Ashland. We would look out across the valley together, as a family, and wonder about the future. And most nights of fretting ended with him telling us that "it always works out in the end, even if its not the result you THINK you want, it always works out in the end." I was skeptical at the time because I had a face full of acne and was donning a pair of those fake Nike's with the upside down swoosh on the side. (I think they were called Niceys). But I have to say, at this point, based on MY life and the lives of my friends and family, I'm left to conclude that he was right. From the moment I left this esteemed institution I have made a series of the most ridiculously irrational decisions, and have a list of failures too long to get through in my time here today. And yet, it would seem, that the universe REWARDS a sort of wild, brainless effort. I have TRIED to plan. (My WIFE will tell you that I continue to try to plan, REALLY continue to try to plan, like, SERIOUSLY, ALWAYS planning. Plan, plan, plan, plan, PLAN.) And it does absolutely no good. My good friend would say that life is more like a bar fight than a boxing match, and, as in a bar fight, the crazy person with the most friends usually wins. You will occasionally take a chair to the head, don't get me wrong, and they don't disintegrate like in the old westerns, its gonna hurt. But when the dust settles it seems as if you're rewarded for nothing more than caring. About work, about friends, about family, about all of it. Its only in retrospect that I detect the helping hands of the universe rewarding my wild roundhouse punches at the chaos of our day to day lives, and with UNCANNY accuracy that blind effort seems to have put myself and most of the people around me exactly where it seems we all should be.
You probably have many more relevant questions; I'll leave those to your parents, teachers, family and friends to answer.
I wish for you all good fortune, good health, and so much love throughout your lives,
Thank you very much.