Rock’s Funniest Commencement Speeches
Experience, star power and the ability to speak to young people in a language they understand have made certain rockers a powerful draw to colleges during commencement season over the years. They're often brought in to deliver these addresses to graduates from a viewpoint you usually don't get with more traditional speakers. Some have shared advice, some dazzled with their one-of-a-kind stories and some went down more humorous paths. Here is a sampling of some of Rock's Funniest Commencement Speeches.
Bono, University of Pennsylvania, 2004
"Hi, my name is Bono and I'm a rock star. ... I don't think there's anything certainly more unseemly than the sight of a rock star in academic robes. It's a bit like when people put their King Charles spaniels in little tartan sweats and hats. It's not natural. And it doesn't make the dog any smarter."
Alice Cooper, Musicians Institute, 2012
"Elvis said to me, ‘Hey, man, you're that cat with the makeup and the snakes. That’s cool, man. I dig that’ … So there I was with a loaded snub-nose Smith & Wesson 38 aimed at Elvis Presley. The little devil on my shoulder said, ‘Kill him.’ The angel the other shoulder said, ‘No, just wound him …’"
Jimmy Page, Berklee College of Music, 2014
“I’ve got something here which could be reasonably called a speech. After the experience of listening to the concert last night, this speech is rendered useless. So here I am; I’m a sort of a busking musician trying to busk my speech.”
David Bowie, Berklee College of Music, 1999
"During one of our expeditions on the backstreets, a kid comes running up to [John Lennon ] and says, 'Are you John Lennon?' And he said, 'No, but I wish I had his money.' Which I promptly stole for myself. 'Are you David Bowie?' 'No, but I wish I had his money.' It's brilliant. It was such a wonderful thing to say. The kid said, 'Oh, sorry. Of course you aren't,' and ran off. I thought, 'This is the most effective device I've heard.' I was back in New York a couple of months later in Soho, downtown, and a voice pipes up in my ear, 'Are you David Bowie?' And I said, 'No, but I wish I had his money.' 'You lying bastard. You wish you had my money.' It was John Lennon."
Jimmy Buffet, University of Miami, 2015
"Be Santa Claus when you can. Being a graduate of this great university makes you luckier than most. Don't ever take this opportunity as something you deserve. Think of it as a gift you can repay going forward. Trust the universe and fins up!"
Steve Van Zandt, Rutgers University, 2017
"I'm here as a cautionary tale. I am the world's greatest adviser, not because I'm smart, but because I have screwed up in every way possible. So, when I suggest something, I can speak with real authority because I most likely did the opposite with a not very good result."
Sting, Berklee College of Music, 1994
"I began to aspire to the piano and would spend hours hammering away at atonal clusters in the delusion that if I persisted long enough my noise would become music. I still labor under this delusion. My mother cursed me with the fine ear of a musician but the hands of a plumber. Anyway, the piano had to be sold to help us out of a financial hole, and my career as an atonal serialist was mercifully stunted. It wasn't until an uncle of mine emigrated to Canada, leaving behind an old Spanish guitar with five rusty strings that my enormous and clumsy fingers found a musical home, and I found what was to become my best friend. Where the piano had seemed incomprehensible, I was able to make music on the guitar almost instantaneously."
Billy Joel, Berklee College of Music, 1993
"What I do, in my opinion, is by no means extraordinary. I am, as I've said, merely competent. But in an age of incompetence, that makes me extraordinary. Maybe that's why I've been able to last in this crazy business. I actually know how to play my axe and write a song. That's my job. So when are you going to get a real job? When are you going to get serious about life? I have news for them: When are you going to get a real job? This is a real job — as real as a doctor, a teacher or a scientist, and just as important as and very similar to healing, teaching and inventing. But even more fun because we have that wizard and sorcerer bit going for us. I have said before to those who have expressed doubts and misgivings about their ability to live this kind of life, maybe they shouldn't try, because being a musician is not something you chose to be. It is something you are, like tall or short or straight or gay. There is no choice, either you is or you ain't."