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John Oliver on 2024 Commencements

John Oliver on 2024 Commencements

John Oliver addressed the past week in commencement gaffes on Sunday’s edition of Last Week Tonight.

Noting that ceremonies in general have been “a little chaotic this year, both because of the continuing protest over Gaza, but also for weirder reasons,” he kicked off the segment by showing footage from the Thomas Jefferson University College of Nursing graduation ceremony, where the announcer struggled to pronounce common names like Sarah, Meghan, Elizabeth, Molly — and Thomas.

“That is magnificent!” Oliver quipped. “Mispronouncing ‘Thomas’ at Thomas Jefferson University is just spectacular.”

He noted that the school later said the problem was due to the fact that the names had been spelled phonetically.

“While providing phonetic pronunciations is fairly commonplace for graduations, what isn’t is looking at the pronunciation, panicking, swallowing your own tongue and then attempting to reinvent Welsh,” he joked.

Oliver then turned to the controversial commencement speech given by Kansas City Chiefs kicker Harrison Butker at Benedictine College in Kansas. During his speech, he condemned abortion, euthanasia, IVF, surrogacy and the LGBTQ community. He also denounced the “diabolical lies told to women.”

“How many of you are sitting here now about to cross this stage and are thinking about all the promotions and titles you are going to get in your career? Some of you may go on to lead successful careers in the world, but I would venture to guess that the majority of you are most excited about your marriage and the children you will bring into this world,” he said. “I can tell you that my beautiful wife, Isabelle, would be the first to say that her life truly started when she began living her vocation as a wife and as a mother.” 

Butker went on to say that his success was due to the fact his wife embraced “one of the most important titles of all: homemaker.”

Oliver said that Butker’s message was “especially wild coming from someone whose own mother is — and this is true — a physicist specializing in brachytherapy and Gamma Knife medical physics care. But I guess he is right. Her most important job was probably raising this absolute ham sandwich of a man.”

Oliver also briefly addressed two other of this week’s commencement speakers, including social media entrepreneur Chris Pan, who admitted that he had taken Ayahuasca to write the speech he gave at Ohio State University, “in which he gave the audience advice about investing in Bitcoin,” Oliver pointed out.

The host went on: “And just today, Morehouse College had Joe Biden as their commencement speaker. And while as of taping that hasn’t happened yet, I’m sure it went great,” Oliver added sarcastically.

“And look — commencement speeches are hard,” he went on. “That is why I have never done one, no matter how many times Hogwarts asks me to. Stop sending me fucking owls. But they don’t need to be an absolute disaster.”

He ended the segment with “perhaps the wildest choice for speaker this year,” at DYouville University in Buffalo, New York, where a robot addressed the graduates using a speech composed by AI. The robot said it was giving “inspirational advice that is common at all graduation ceremonies. Embrace lifelong learning. Be adaptable. Pursue your passions. Take risks. Foster meaningful connections. Make a positive impact. And believe in yourself.”

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“I’m sure students will fondly remember those stirring words as robots take all of their jobs before eventually tracking them down when they’re hiding in an abandoned warehouse during humanity’s final hours,” Oliver quipped.

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