JENNIFER LEE: Good afternoon, friends and family, faculty, members of the administration, distinguished guests, and most importantly, members of the class of 2014.
My name is Jennifer Lee. And it is both an honor and a privilege to be among the first to welcome you to the 2014 convocation ceremony and the beginning of Cornell University's 146th commencement weekend. It's hard to believe that just a short four years ago we were sitting here in this very spot. We were nervous, anxious, yet so excited to begin our journey here at Cornell. After countless hours of hard work and a handful of fun times, we find ourselves here again in this very spot, nervous, anxious, yet excited, but this time to enter the real world.
Even though we may have similar feelings today, as we did four years ago, I encourage you to think about the different types of experiences you've had while you've been here at Cornell. We've endured difficult classes and professors, long nights in the libraries, and endless days of snow with no sunshine. On the other hand, we have an unforgettable memories here with the families that we've created here at Cornell. They started with long dinners at RPCC our freshman year that eventually led to the late nights at bars our senior year.
So how have your experiences helped you grow while you've been here? We've seen Cornell transform through the removal of open parties. We've seen the addition of Milstein Hall, Gates Hall, and the Dairy Bar. We witnessed the fences coming down. We've celebrated the New York City Tech campus but mostly beating Stanford.
We too have grown just as Cornell has. We have grown through expected or unexpected conversations with friends. We have grown by learning something new about each other every day. And finally, we've grown through the adventures that you'll never tell your parents about. Although we are facing uncertainty as we leave Cornell, we are fortunate enough to have our Cornell family and experiences that will help us achieve our goals and make us future leaders. The greatest part about our Cornell family is that no matter where we are, we will always have a home on the Hill.
In just a short 24 hours, we will officially become alumni of this university. And that will come with a new chapter of responsibilities. We don't know what these responsibilities are going to be. We don't know what challenges we're going to face. But it doesn't matter, because we will get through it together just as we did the past four years as the class of 2014 of Cornell University.
I would now like to introduce my friend and president of the class of 2014, Rob Callahan, to deliver the senior address. Thank you.
ROBERT CALLAHAN: Thank you, Jen. Welcome, my fellow members of the class of 2014. We made it! I've had the unique pleasure to serve as your class president since March of our freshman year. And this speech has been the part of the job that made me the most nervous.
Like any good Cornell student, I tried to get out ahead of this. I talked to previous graduation speakers. I watched graduation videos in hopes of finding a magic bullet. Unfortunately, if there is such a thing, I couldn't find it. Instead, I just had to go with my gut. Therefore, if you'll bear with me, I'd like to tell you a story and pass on some advice.
First, the story, trying to find a common thread between all of Cornell is not easy. We have seven undergraduate colleges, thousands of students, numerous departments, and countless administrative stove pipes. However, there's one building which has been very dear to me during my four years and which I feel I can confidently say has played a part in every one of our Cornell experiences. That building is Barton Hall.
During orientation, Barton Hall was where we went to pick up our Cornell IDs and officially began our stories as Cornell students. Barton Hall's story did not begin with us that day. Instead, it began that week and that morning with the efforts of Cornell's building care staff to set up Barton Hall and all of campus for our arrival.
Coming in each day before the sun rises and while some intrepid students are trying to put the moon to bed, the men and women on Cornell staff ensure that when we, the parents, students, and faculty of Cornell show up, that everything is ready for us. While our first day in Barton Hall was filled almost exclusively with students getting ready for orientation, throughout the year, Barton Hall sees a more varied crowd with even more varied interests. There are ROTC cadets executing drills and working out, sports teams practicing in preparation for their weekend competitions, dance troupes and performance groups honing their skills and crafting the perfect shows, a daily town versus gown basketball game.
Every so often, a stage appears and Cornell gets serenaded by some of the best musical acts in the world. Fraternities, sororities, graduate programs, and freshmen floors face off in intramural sports. And of course, twice a year, the basketball hoops, pole vaults, mats, and formations are replaced with rows of tables and chairs, when we all take our final exams.
In these ways, Barton is a microcosm of Cornell. We all stepped onto East Hill and into Barton for our own reasons. And after this weekend, we will step off the Hill to pursue our own hopes and dreams.
In preparation for that step, I'd like to share some advice I received when I first began my educational journey. My father wrote me a note on the back of his business card my first day of kindergarten. It said, Bobby, have fun, question authority, there are no limits, love Dada.
Bobby-- just as my father addressed me directly, so too should we do our best to speak directly to whom we want to hear us, whether we are speaking to our friends, family, co-workers, or bosses, being passive is not acceptable. Instead, we should address exactly who we want to tell and tell them exactly what needs to be said.
Have fun-- a lot of people say that these past four years will have been the best four years of our life. I say that's unacceptable. Regardless of where you wind up after graduation, make the most of it. Find people who share your interests and passions and celebrate them together. The past four years have been a blast. And if there are any example, I'm sure each and every one of you can make each year you have on this Earth the very best it can be.
Question authority-- the irony of a man in uniform imploring you to question authority is not lost on me. [LAUGHTER] However, it doesn't make the advice any less pertinent. These past four years, I've seen student activism surrounding issues of campus life, national politics, and global affairs. Regardless of your feelings on a specific issue, it is important that you stand up for whatever it is you believe in.
But that enough is not alone. Make sure to question those who you agree with too. It is easy to only engage with people who share your opinion, but this does nothing besides create an echo chamber, where dialogue becomes separated from reality. Instead, do your best to create meaningful conversation on both sides of the issues which animate you. That is your duty as the recipient of a world class education and nothing less than our country and our world deserve.
There are no limits. We are all entering a world at an interesting time. While at Cornell, we saw a major expansion of America's social safety net, the death of Osama bin Laden, a slow-moving economic recovery, and the end of the Iraq War.
The world we are entering offers the end of the war in Afghanistan alongside a spectre increasing disorder in the Middle East and Eastern Europe. Such an environment offers us the opportunity to climb to our highest highs or fall to our lowest lows. Though I'm sure most of us will wind up somewhere in the middle, we should not forget that life has an untold amount of possibility and not all of it is positive.
Love Dada-- it is important to express your feelings honestly and openly. During my time at Cornell, I lost two family members-- one, an old man who I wish I'd spent more time listening to, and the other, a young one who I wish I had more time to make noise with. Although I cannot make up for opportunities missed and denied, I would like to take this time to thank those who have made my four years a unique and rewarding experience.
My parents, thank you for 21 years of love and support, even if those years didn't quite match your expectations. Fritz, you were the first person I met at Cornell. It's been quite the ride. Thanks for the good times and the level head. Matt and [? Osser, ?] living with me isn't easy, and you guys did it for four years. Thank you for keeping me organized and on track.
My brothers in Seal and Serpent, you are gentlemen of the highest character, strong morals, and capable of excellent scholarship. The times we've shared will be among my fondest memories of Cornell. The fellow members of the Cornell ROTC programs, thank you for your company during early mornings, late nights, and odd weekends. To my fellow seniors of the Excelsior Battalion, thank you for the adventures, the friendships, and demonstrating exactly what it means to be in a values-based organization.
To everyone I met on break, thanks for being awesome. It's a shame we weren't friends sooner. SFHQ and the rest of the Wednesday crowd, thank you for keeping me sane and teaching me that the weekend isn't a day but only a state of mind. [LAUGHTER] To those who toast with the left instead of the right, keep on being different.
To Jen Davis, David Bell, and everyone else I've worked with in the Dean of Students Office, thank you for your guidance and mentorship. Students can be difficult to work with the times, and me more than most. But your efforts are what enable us as students to make Cornell into what we want it to be. To [? Umbars ?] Royalty, thanks for being spontaneous and reminding there was more to senior year than just my thesis.
To my academic advisers, my thesis committee, and the college scholar program, thank you for helping me find my passion and giving me the ability to follow it. Finally, to you, class of 2014, thank you for four amazing years. I wish you all the best in your future endeavors, and I look forward to seeing you here tomorrow morning. Thank you.
I'd now like to introduce two people who will speak about our class's gift to the university and who I look forward to handing the class presidency over to, Senior Class Campaign Co-Presidents, Wei Yang and Ihsan Kabir.
IHSAN BASHIR KABIR: Thank you, Rob. Good morning. My goodness, there are a lot of you in the crowd. [LAUGHTER] T minus 24 hours, it's kind of a crazy thought, isn't it? We moved in on August 20, 2010. 1,373 days have passed since then. And a lot has happened in that time.
To call it a journey would be an oversimplification. But you know what? You know what the important part is? We're all here today. And we'll all be here tomorrow, because we made it. We made it as stronger, better, and smarter people than we were when we first came in. We made it, thanks to our leadership, our service, and our character. And that, class of 2014, is what counts.
But tomorrow, as soon as the sun sets on the tower, people start leaving. Yes, the moment commencement ends, our paths began to diverge. We made promises to stay in touch. We tell each other we'll text, we'll call, we'll Gchat, we'll Snapchat, we'll Skype, any other social media. But we know that deep down, these are just coping mechanisms for facing the inevitable truth that things will change.
So how do we stay connected? Through the very entity that brought us together. Let me rephrase this. And I'll use Dr. Seuss as my guide here. Don't cry because it's over, smile because it happened.
Apologies for the cliche. But don't cry because it's over, smile because it happened. Smile because the past four years happened. That's what the Senior Class Campaign is about.
It's about us acknowledging that, if it were not for Cornell, we wouldn't have made these friends, had these memories, or been here and been a part of this incredible experience. And it's about half of our class joining us too. It's about knowing that we can and always will be in touch with Cornell, that we can interview prospective students, that we can go to events in nearby cities, that we can come back to reunions and make fun of me for giving this somewhat awkward speech. [LAUGHTER]
But that's what it's about. It's about knowing that, even though our class won't physically be on the Hill together, we're not apart. It's about knowing that, through Cornell, our friendship will always live on. It's about continuing to support Cornell and thanking Cornell for all it's done for you.
Personally, I'd like to think Cornell, because I, as a random student from Bangladesh, met another random young lady from inner Mongolia. And she became my best friend and now serves as my co-president. And with that, I'd like to turn it over to Wei Yang.
WEI YANG: Thank you, Bestie. Honestly, [AUDIO OUT]
Yes, we made it. But we didn't make it just on our own. We made it because of the sacrifices our parents made at home and because we had a friend who stayed with us all night in Uris, or Carpenter, or Upson Computer Lab that kind of smells. We had a kind professor, who understand us and believed in us. We had a generous donor, or many, who gave to a scholarship or research facility or any other campus of Cornell that gave us those opportunities to challenge ourselves in the first place.
And that's what Senior Class Campaign is all about. It's about taking a second to not just relish in our own accomplishments, but give credit to those who had helped us get to where we are today. It's about reflecting on our successes with a sense of humility and gratitude. It's about saying thank you to the resources, opportunities, and people here at Cornell that have made us, upon graduation from this university, much stronger and hopefully smarter, ready and hungry for any challenges in real world.
And today, I would like to say thank you to all the seniors. Because of your generosity and active participation, we beat the class of 2013, 2012, and 2011 with over 1,500 seniors participating in the Senior Class Campaign, representing an increase of over 25% from last year.
A special thank you goes to the college with the highest participation, the School of Hotel Administration.
Also special shout-outs to two other colleges that broke recent-year records, the College of Engineering [CHEERING] and the College of Architecture, Art, and Planning. [CHEERING] President Skorton, we are very proud to announce that the Class of 2014 is contributing more than $49,000 to alma mater before we graduate.
Again, thank you so much to all who participated in the campaign. And now, please join me in welcoming Cornell University's Chorus and Glee Club as they sing "The Hill" by George F. Pond.
[MUSIC - CORNELL UNIVERSITY CHORUS AND GLEE CLUB, "THE HILL"]
JENNIFER LEE: A national leader in research ethics, board-certified cardiologist, musician, and advocate for the arts and humanities, the university's president aims to make Cornell a model combination of academic distinction and public service. Please join me in welcoming the 12th President of Cornell University, Dr. David J. Skorton.
DAVID SKORTON: Thank you and welcome to this gorgeous commencement weekend in Ithaca. Amazing!
Yes, late May in Ithaca, we don't even have to wear blankets at the convocation. We're doing great. Well, I want to take another opportunity to congratulate the great Class of 2014.
I want to welcome not only the students but the family and friends of this class and the wider community as we celebrate this year's senior class convocation. I do want to thank the Class of 2014 for all that you've taught me and Robin, for all that you've contributed to this university and to this community, and, as we've just heard, your very generous way to pay forward to the next groups to follow you. Thank you very, very much.
And again, I want to recognize Convocation Chair Jennifer Lee, Senior Class President Rob Callahan, and the Senior Campaign Co-Presidents Wei Yang and Ihsan Kabir for their leadership on behalf of this magnificent graduating class.
Now, the Class of 2014 has taken the unusual step of choosing as its convocation speaker someone who, over the course of several years, attracted national attention in the role of a devoted, but thoroughly obnoxious, Cornell alum. [LAUGHTER] But happily, today's speaker is not Andy Bernard but Ed Helms, a multi-talented and highly accomplished actor, stand-up comic, musician, and writer.
A native of Atlanta, he graduated from Oberlin College with a bachelor's degree in Film Theory and Technology. After graduation, he moved to New York City, where he worked as a film editor at a post production company, while writing and performing stand-up comedy and improv. He soon left his editing job for a growing performance career, including voice-over work as well as comedy routines and then successfully auditioning for a part on the satirical news program The Daily Show.
Mr. Helms, as you know, appeared regularly on The Daily Show from 2002 to 2006 in a very funny and abrasive persona. He was then hired for the Andy Bernard role in the American version of the sitcom The Office. Originally scheduled to appear in just eight episodes, he was such a hit that the show's creators decided to keep him on. Eventually becoming one of the show's producers, he remained with The Office through its final season just last year in 2013.
Meanwhile, Mr. Helms was succeeding on the big screen as well. His first major film success came in '09 with the wildly popular comedy, including in our house, The Hangover. Let's hear it! [CHEERING] He also has had significant roles in The Hangover Part II and Part III and We're the Miller's, and a personal favorite, since my wife, Professor Robin Davisson, is from Cedar Rapids, Cedar Rapids.
His recent work includes We Came Together, which premiered earlier this year at the Sundance Film Festival. And his next project is Paramount's new spin on The Naked Gun, based on the 1988 original and two sequels.
Mr. Helms also as a deep love for Bluegrass music and plays the banjo and guitar as well as the piano. He performs occasionally with two friends from his undergraduate days as The Lonesome Trio. And he co-founded the LA Bluegrass Situation, a music festival in Los Angeles. He also serves on the advisory board of Education Through Music-LA, which supports music education in Los Angeles Public Schools. It is my great pleasure to join the Cornell University Class of 2014 in welcoming as our convocation speaker, Mr. Ed Helms.
ED HELMS: Wow, thank you. Thank you for that introduction. Not enough applause on The Hangover. [LAUGHTER] That-- you guys really disappointed me on that. [LAUGHTER] Give it up for the Glee Club. Those are my peeps over there. [LAUGHTER]
And how impressive are these guys? Wow! It's tough acts to follow. I'm not scared of your uniform, Rob. I could still take you, if I had to. [LAUGHTER]
Good afternoon, faculty, students, friends, family, younger siblings playing Flappy Bird. What a fantastic day. Such a proud moment. I can see it your faces excited, full of hope, and blissfully unaware that you will be paying off high-interest student loans well into your '60s.
But don't worry, it was money well-spent. If you're wondering where the bulk of your tuition goes, you might be interested to know that my personal appearance fee is $4 million. But I do give $100 of that directly to charity, because that's just who I am. $4 million may sound like a lot, but keep in mind, I will be talking nonstop for the next 106 hours, so settle in.
And may I say to those of you graduating from Cornell's esteemed School of Hotel Administration, congratulations. [CHEERING] And also, I'm in room 404 of The Statler, and I could use a couple extra pillows whenever you get a chance.
Cornell, can we talk about your mascot for a second? He's a bear in a red sweater, and his name is Big Red. Have you checked the news lately? Because we're on the cusp of another Cold War. And you have the most communist mascot imaginable. [LAUGHTER]
This whole campus is steeped in communist propaganda. I'm shocked Putin isn't here delivering this speech. I have expected President Skorton to ride up shirtless on a horse. [LAUGHTER] I wouldn't be at all surprised if Cornell tried to annex Ithaca College tomorrow. It's all part of Putin's master plan-- first Crimea, then the scenic Finger Lakes region, and then, I don't know, Rochester.
So many distinguished speakers have been on this stage. It's really a privilege for me to follow them. Cory Booker, a US senator, who literally tweets 80 times a day, which we can all assume is exactly what our Founding Fathers had in mind.
Michael Bloomberg, a great mayor of New York City and a man with the courage and vision to invent the most boring television channel in history. And of course, US Representative from the great state of California-- and at the time she was here-- Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, my ex-wife. I wish her well. [LAUGHTER]
And now me, Ed Helms, an actor. And you're lucky you got me, because I have some amazing advice for you today, which I have pulled from my rich and varied life experience. My advice to you is, go out and be a movie star, because it's awesome. [LAUGHTER]
You're probably wondering, well, how do you go be a movie star? Isn't that complicated? No, it's not, actually. Here's how you do it. If someone offers you a part in a movie called The Hangover or The Hangover II or really anything with the word a hangover and it, you should definitely take it. I am divulging some serious entertainment industry secrets here.
All right, guys, let's cut to the chase. You do realize I'm not actually Andy Bernard, right? That he isn't a real person. He is a character from a TV show. And I am the actor who played him.
Or did you actually invite a fictional person to give this speech, because that would be very strange. That would be like the Naval Academy inviting Captain Crunch or Notre Dame inviting a leprechaun or Rice University inviting Uncle Ben. [LAUGHTER] I have a whole list of these. I could go on. Purdue University inviting Colonel Sanders, think about that one.
But before we go any further, for those of you who have no idea what I'm talking about with this Andy Bernard stuff, let me explain. I'm a guy whose primary connection to this venerable institution is having portrayed a rather hard-to-like Cornell alum, named Andy Bernard on the NBC television show The Office. It's interesting Condoleezza Rice backed out of speaking at Rutgers this year, because students protested over her controversial role in the Iraq war. Meanwhile, I directly embarrassed this school for eight years on national television and no protests.
When I got the invitation to speak here, I was scared to open the email, because I thought it might actually be a lawsuit. [LAUGHTER] To be perfectly honest, I was really touched by this invitation. Andy Bernard's zealous embrace of Cornell is well-documented. But I can't tell you how meaningful and just plain cool it is to see Cornell embrace him right back.
And I'm not alone. Our entire Office family, the cast, crew, writers, we all think this is pretty cool. And so thank you very much. I am very proud to be here.
And now, I feel obliged to indulge at least one "rat tat tat ta do." Ah, yes, I do. I miss that. I genuinely-- I loved playing Andy Bernard. And this might surprise you, but I actually learned a lot from Andy Bernard.
If you've never seen an episode of The Office, in a nutshell, Andy was conniving, obnoxious, desperate for attention. He had an anger management problem and a very questionable fashion sense. But if you paid close attention, you could see that Andy also had an enormous heart. He wanted desperately to be a better person. He had a huge capacity for love and was, at times, deeply compassionate and even sweet.
And my favorite trait of his, he really wore his heart on his sleeve. You always knew where Andy stood. Whether he was incredibly angry at Dwight or madly, deeply in love with Angela, he let you know. Even when it wasn't in his own interest to broadcast his feelings, he couldn't help himself. Andy was by all accounts a fool, a glorious, vulnerable fool.
So imagine my surprise when I realized that I was actually experiencing some wish fulfillment in portraying Andy, because his foolishness was actually a kind of honesty and integrity. I always believed that I, Ed Helms the actor, was superior to Andy, because I had better social skills. I had more discretion and humility.
But over time, playing Andy made me realize that what I thought was sophisticated self-awareness on my part was very often just self-consciousness and fear of judgment. And what I really wanted was to be more free and foolish, like Andy, to be more transparent with my feelings, to engage the world with less artifice, to be more of a fool in my daily life.
And now, we get to the heart of the matter. As you look ahead and ponder your lives, after four years of extensive learning, having been taught by some of the greatest minds on the planet, studying late nights, endless exams, essays, please remember to be a fool. Sounds crazy. A fool is by definition a person who lacks good sense or judgment. But I'm here to tell you that good sense and judgment are highly overrated. [LAUGHTER]
Wisdom is too often just a fancy word for cynicism. And foolishness is a condescending word for joy and wonder and curiosity. George Bernard Shaw said, "a man learns to skate by staggering about and making a fool of himself. Indeed, he progresses in all things by resolutely making a fool of himself." I couldn't agree more.
It turns out, the world provides us with virtually infinite opportunities to be a fool. Let's take a look at a couple. Only a fool would risk failure. Be that fool.
I went to college with a wonderful guy named Phil. And he was in a really great band at the time called Trans Am. If you've never heard Trans Am, check them out. They're awesome. After graduation, they went on and had a really successful tour and became indie rock stars. And I moved to New York City to basically be a broke, filmmaker and comedian.
But I called Phil one day, and I said, hey, Phil, can I direct a music video for you guys? And he said, well, I don't know, what are your qualifications? And I said, I don't have any. And he said, great, OK, cool. Let's do this. Because that's kind of how things get done when you're 22 years old.
I was living in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, with a whole lot of college buddies. We reached out to every friend we had and every friend they had, and we staged a full-blown Trans Am concert in the loading bay of a warehouse building on Kent Avenue. We probably packed 1,000 or 2,000 people in there. Was it legal? Well, let's just say, if a fire marshal saw this, he would protest by setting himself on fire.
Now, I was terrified, because I was essentially a concert promoter, a video director, a cameraman, caterer, hair and makeup artist, set decorator, all at once. And I had no idea how to actually do any one of those things. I was effectively a complete fraud in about 10 different ways.
Now, here's where I wish this story took a cute turn and I could tell you that, despite my complete incompetence, by sheer grit and determination, I turned it around, and I powered through and made a really cool music video. But that's exactly what didn't happen that night. The film jammed in the camera. The wheelchair that I had rented for $500 deposit to use as a camera dolly was tossed in the East River by drunken revelers. I failed to anticipate that it would actually be very difficult to direct my cast and crew in the middle of a raging rock concert.
I lost my temper at all of my best friends. I was caught in a recursive feedback loop of ineptitude, which was so overwhelming and all encompassing, I can only imagine that from the outside it looked haltingly beautiful, like a mushroom cloud in slow motion. The video was awful. Thankfully, almost 20 years later, I can now see that it is, in fact, also hilarious. You can judge for yourself on YouTube.
But at the time, it was just a giant, epic fail. I was a fool for taking on more than I could handle. And it was brutal. But at least, I had an outcome. And outcomes, whether good or bad, allow us to move forward, maybe trim the sails, but stay in forward motion.
Had I exercised good sense and good judgment, had I not been foolish, I never would have done it. And then all I'd have is a vague sense of regret and wonder, which is at best useless and at worst paralyzing.
Here's another one. Only a fool would work hard when there's no clear objective. Be that fool. Shouldn't we wait until we have direction before we take decisive action? Otherwise, we risk wasting a lot of time and energy.
But many times in life-- college graduation, for example-- we don't have a clear goal. We're overwhelmed by all the options, or we're scared we don't know enough to succeed at the thing we want. It doesn't matter. Be a fool and work hard at whatever's right in front of you.
On my flight here, I saw an ant on the airplane. Now, this ant was presumably an accidental stowaway, I'm guessing because I definitely did not see him at the ticket counter. [LAUGHTER] In any case, he was a long way from home and definitely had no idea that he was now hurdling across the country at 30,000 feet. And yet, there he was marching along my armrest with startling alacrity.
He went up to every single spec or dot and inspected it, sniffed it, smelled it, maybe tried to mate with it. I don't know. His genitals are too tiny to see. But the point is, he was completely clueless but still madly industrious. Now, that is patently foolish behavior, but it is also surprisingly valuable.
After my music video directing career went down in flames, I landed a good job, which I abruptly quit at age 25 to really try and make and go of comedy. It would be years before I even made $5 from comedy. So to make money, I began doing commercial voice-overs.
Now, what does that mean? Well, if you watched TV or listened to the radio in the late '90s or early '00s, it's very possible you heard me saying things like, "two Whoppers for $2 only at Burger King," [LAUGHTER] or "the AQUOS, liquid crystal television, from Sharp."
Yeah, it give it up for that. Those are real. I really did those. To book voice-overs you go on auditions. Now, I needed a lot-- I needed money, so I went on as many auditions I could, up to five or six a day, all over Manhattan, five days a week. And I did this for years. That's thousands of auditions.
And how many of those did I actually book? Maybe, maybe 1%. The rest, the other 99% of those auditions, just went up in smoke. And that took a weird toll on me. It got depressing-- so many useless auditions. Wasn't there something more valuable or productive I could be doing with my time?
But it was enabling me to do comedy at night. So I dug in and I continued to work hard at it, traveling all over the city, every day making sure I was on time to every single audition. I went to so many auditions that this often nerve-wracking show business ritual became second nature to me.
I wouldn't get nervous at all. I'd just walk in, do my thing, and walk out. Moreover, I knew that 99% of the time I wasn't going to get the job. So as soon as I walked out, I let it go, never gave it a second thought.
I didn't realize it, but I was slowly becoming a Zen master of auditioning. So when I finally auditioned for The Daily Show, an audition I was really nervous and excited about, I walked in with a ridiculous amount of confidence. I had more confidence than I had any business having, and not because I was particularly good at comedy yet-- I was a relative greenhorn at comedy-- but because I was amazing at auditioning. [LAUGHTER]
When you try hard at everything you do, even if it feels utterly foolish to do so, you're opening up future doors and possibilities that you might not be seeing in the moment. Remember the ant? After tenaciously inspecting my armrest, he made it over to my tray table. And before long, he landed on my Starbucks Brownie. Is
That cool? I don't know. How would you feel if you were walking through the woods and landed on a chocolate cake the size of a house. [LAUGHTER] Pretty cool.
OK, next one. Only a fool would deliberately scare himself. Be that fool. Here's the thing. Scaring ourselves is, well, it's scary. And that's not necessarily fun for anybody. But you have to do it, because it's the most potent catalyst for growth.
The Daily Show scared me on a regular basis. At the political conventions, each correspondent was dispatched on the convention floor with barely more than a camera crew and then directed to go get something funny. On election nights, we did absolutely terrifying live shows. Lo and behold, it was during those deliberately scary situations that I grew the most as a performer.
Then I got a call from my agent. He had set up a meeting with Greg Daniels, show runner for The Office. It was 2006. Greg was gearing up for the third season. The writers had been kicking around a new character named Andy Bernard. And Greg wanted me to play him.
I was absolutely thrilled. At that point, I'd been on The Daily Show for 4 and 1/2 years, and I was ready to stretch my legs. I was ready to show the world that I had some acting ability beyond this snarky, heightened version of myself I had played on The Daily Show, because let's be honest, that guy was-- he was a jerk. Me, I'm talking about. [LAUGHTER]
Also, I was getting pretty sick of New York winters. I don't know if you guys know anything about that. [LAUGHTER] So I moved to Los Angeles, was feeling pretty peachy. But there was one really big problem. Andy's entire arc on the show was only scripted to last eight episodes. That's eight weeks of work, two months.
Suddenly, this exciting possibility was just a terrifying choice. Working on The Office was obviously a wonderful opportunity. But could I really quit my job at The Daily Show for only eight weeks of work? Then what would I do? And that's when all of the lessons I had learned about scaring myself kicked in.
I loved my job at The Daily Show, but I knew I needed to grow. And to grow, I needed to scare the hell out of myself and step off the cliff. So I did. And I foolishly took the role of Andy Bernard, and it completely changed my life.
After six episodes, I became a permanent cast member. And I was employed for not only eight weeks but eight wonderful years. Let's-- [APPLAUSE] Oh, great, yeah. [LAUGHTER] Thank you. Feel free to clap any time. [LAUGHTER]
There is an ant on the podium. [LAUGHTER] And he is so eager to get somewhere. God bless him.
Let's try another. Only a fool would disregard his past and future. Be that fool. We should all learn from our past and plan for our future, right? Well, sort of. The problem is we often take it too far, and we undervalue the present.
I'll never forget watching the opening ceremony of the Sochi Olympics and seeing all of the athletes rise out of that tunnel in the middle of that acid trip of a stadium. And they all came out in this huge line, and they were all filming it on their iPhones. And I just wanted to scream at the TV, guys, stop filming this, put your phones away. NBC has already got it covered, just set your DVR. Enjoy the moment, for God's sake.
A psychologist named Linda Henkel actually tested this and found, we remember less about something when we record it on our iPhones, because we externalize it. We let this device do the job of remembering for us. Staying present in the moment is counterintuitive but it's worth it.
I learned this firsthand when, after a few great years on The Office, I received a script called The Hangover. It might surprise you to know that when I got that script I agonized about whether I should do it. Why? Because I played out all these scenarios in my mind of it being an embarrassing flop.
I believed between The Daily Show and The Office, I had established myself as a smart, sophisticated comedian. That was my brand. Wouldn't a movie about a bunch of guys getting a hangover dumb me down? How will this reflect on me? What will the reviews say? I thought I was being smart, prudent, exercising discretion and common sense. But I was actually just being arrogant and fearful, preoccupied with catastrophe.
What I really needed was to disengage my analytical mind and be foolishly in the moment, because the script in front of me was really funny. It made me laugh. The story was original, even kind of heartwarming. The director was Todd Phillips, a modern master of comedy. And my potential co-stars were not only hilarious, they were great guys. I knew I'd have fun making this movie.
All of that information was reality. It was the present. My paranoid predictions about the future, that was fancy. Once I focused on the present, what was real, the answer was abundantly clear. Do the damn movie. And so I did it. And it turned out OK. [LAUGHTER]
Which brings us back to Andy Bernard. In the series finale of The Office, Andy said something quite profound. He was leaving the frumpy Dunder-Mifflin Paper Company to join the admissions staff here at Cornell University. [CHEERING]
While thrilled about his new job, he was suddenly overwhelmed with nostalgia. He said, I wish there was a way to know you're in the good old days before you've actually left them. I love that line. I even got misty saying it on camera that day. What a wonderful way to send Andy off to the great beyond.
But it got me thinking, what exactly are the good old days? When do they happen and why? Here's the thing. Good old days are good, because they're the times we look back and we really liked ourselves. And I contend that good old days are marked by relatively high levels of foolishness.
Case in point, college. College is almost always considered good old days and for good reason. It's one of the great incubators for foolishness. Sadly, so much of the vitality and curiosity that we bring to college is almost immediately squished out of us when we step out into the real world.
Remember when you arrived as freshman for orientation and you were so open and curious and vulnerable? You went out of your way to meet the other kids on your hall. You helped your neighbors move in. Over the next four years, you worked hard, but you probably also went to some weird jazz concerts or poetry readings, maybe a party or two, I don't know.
Perhaps you stayed up late debating Ayn Rand versus Karl Marx or skipped class to go on a great hike. You joined clubs. You scoured the course catalog to find subjects that ignited your curiosity.
The world will tell you that that's all well and good, but it's time to grow up now and leave those foolish, youthful diversions behind. Don't fall for that. I'm here to tell you, those foolish diversions are the real nectar of life. Don't relegate them to the good old days. Take them with you, keep creating good old days.
Now, let me ask you something. Have you ever heard a profound insight and thought, wow, that is so true-- whether it's Confucius or Mark Twain or Shakespeare or Aristotle. The only reason profound insights resonate with us is because at some level we already know them. That's an important thing to realize, because it means that all of us are brilliant and profound.
Somewhere deep inside, we all share the secrets of the world, the human condition, all of the arts and sciences. How you live your life determines how many of those secrets will be revealed to you. Pursuing knowledge and responsibility gets you halfway there. The other half can only be tapped by being a glorious and wonderful fool.
I'm not saying be irresponsible. On the contrary, be grateful for your amazing Cornell education. Put it to good use and be great at whatever you do. But always nurture a healthy contempt for maturity and levelheadedness. [LAUGHTER]
The world out there cultivates conformity and cynicism. But you don't have to. Take a stand, put up a fight. Be a fool. Thank you, congratulations, and good luck.
DAVID SKORTON: That was the best convocation speech I've ever heard. That was great.
JENNIFER LEE: Thank you, Ed Helms, for sharing your inspiring words with us. It was truly a pleasure to hear your perspective today. And at this time, we would like to recognize and thank you for honoring us with your presence during this incredibly meaningful time in our lives.
Your phenomenal accomplishments as an actor, writer, musician, and comedian have inspired us to dream big and achieve great things. Your work through Education Through Music-LA remind us to always give back and help others. We are pleased to present you with the 2014 Senior Convocation Medallion.
And then we step over here and get the photo.
Thank you again for being here and sharing this special day with us.
I would now like to take this opportunity to thank certain individuals who have helped in making today's event successful. First of all, thank you to the 2014 Convocation Committee for your hard work and dedication in making this event possible. Please stand to be recognized.
It's their hard work and diversity of thought who brought Ed Helms here today. Secondly, thank you to the members of the administration and staff, especially President Skorton and Vice President Susan Murphy, for their constant support in ensuring the success of this weekend for everyone. Thank you to my advisor, Jennifer Davis, who has spent countless hours planning every last detail of this convocation. Thank you to all the volunteers and thank you, mom and dad, and all the parents out there, who have sacrificed so much to make sure that we all made it to this day.
On behalf of the Office of the Dean of Students, I congratulate all of you on your achievements thus far as Cornellian. And I'm excited to see what the future holds. I hope that you'll look back at our time together fondly and wish you the best of luck. Thank you again for joining us for this remarkable event today. Now, I ask that you please rise and join the seniors of the University Chorus and Glee Club in the singing of the alma mater.
[MUSIC - "FAR ABOVE CAYUGA'S WATERS"]
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Ed Helms, the actor who portrayed fictional Cornell alumnus Andy Bernard '93 on the television comedy 'The Office,' delivered the Senior Convocation address to graduating students and guests at Schoellkopf Stadium, May 24, 2014.