Russert Draws Laughs, Dispenses Advice
Students tease news anchor on ‘Meet the Press’ about his predictability
“And you wanted Ali G?! This just goes to show that politics is just show business for ugly people,” Russert told the assembled members of the Class of 2005 and their families, taking a jab at his own business.
After comedian Sacha Baron Cohen—known by his stage name Ali G.—left some audience members uneasy last year with his off-color jokes on topics such as marijuana and sex, Harvard administrators encouraged this year’s Senior Class Committee to invite a speaker who would appeal to a cross-generational audience, according to committee members.
When Russert gave a commencement address at Holy Cross last month, the Worcester Telegram & Gazette reported that he had delivered virtually the same speech at multiple commencement ceremonies over the past five years.
Keen ears at yesterday’s ceremonies perceived the occasional scattered proclamations of “Bingo!” from among the audience, as several students marked off cards etched with key phrases culled from transcripts of Russert’s canned addresses.
Max E.S. Brodsky ’05, who helped to organize the game of “Tim Russert Bingo,” said he felt the need to “rib Russert a little for his lack of spontaneity and the fact that most of his speech is totally recycled.”
Brodsky said the “prank wasn’t actually directed at Tim Russert” but rather was a “response to the conservative choice of Tim Russert for Class Day, which usually calls for a funny, more lighthearted speaker.”
“Russert came through with a great speech that did speak to the moment—just as it probably has for moments since 1986,” added David R. Ferris ’05, who helped Brodsky organize the game.
For parts of his speech, Russert did stick verbatim to the words he has delivered at other college commencements. In perhaps an attempt to excuse his repetitive speeches, Russert confessed, as he did to American University in May, that he has little memory of his previous addresses.
“Let me be honest with you about my own experiences with commencement addresses...I’ve been through several of my own, sat through dozens of others, and I can’t recall a word or phrase from any of those informed, inspirational, or seemingly interminable speeches,” he said.
But he did add in some jokes specifically for Harvard. At the start of his speech, he played the part of the awestruck tourist, wondering aloud, “So this is Harvard?...The greatest gathering of intellects since Thomas Jefferson dined alone.”
Not even University President Lawrence H. Summers was exempt from Russert’s satirical scrutinizing lens. Referring to Summers’ controversial remarks on women in science earlier this year, Russert even added after one anecdote that Summers must now appreciate that “women are not only good at math, they have a good sense of humor, too.”
Before Russert took the podium, First Marshall Caleb I. Franklin ’05 addressed the crowd of, as he put it, “friends, foes, family, and greasy underclassmen who should have gone home by now.”
He challenged his classmates to recognize the “mark we have made and will continue to make on this University.”
Meanwhile, Harvard Orators Susan E. McGregor ’05 and Alexander L. Pasternack ’05, both Crimson editors, soberly advised their classmates about the path that lay ahead.
McGregor drew an analogy between the self-forged post-graduate path of Harvard students and rock-climbing. Pasternack urged seniors to continue to freely and deeply dabble in fields as they have done as undergraduates at Harvard.
After Russert’s speech, Ivy Orators James Harvey ’05 and Michelle E. White ’05 took up the slack of wittiness where he left off, infusing their speeches with Harvard-specific jokes. White, in particular, took aim at the homebody tendencies of Harvard students, tartly commemorating her days of exploration at Harvard, where she “met people all over Boston—even in Loker Commons.”
In keeping with the tongue-in-cheek tone of the overall ceremonies, Franklin bid a final farewell to his classmates. “I’d like to ask everyone to keep Harvard in their hearts, because the Harvard Fund will keep you in their hands,” he said.
—Staff writer Vinita M. Alexander can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.