With the Comedy Central cameras off, one of Charleston’s most popular favorite sons settled in behind the podium at the commencement for graduates at the Medical University of South Carolina.
Stephen Colbert, whose father was academic vice president at the university in the early ’70s, did not bring his famous alter-ego: the excitable faux talk show pundit of The Colbert Report. Instead, he provided sentimental memories of his dad and the times they spent on campus.
Colbert did make one reference to the character that has launched a thousand fan sites; a failed, comedic presidential campaign; and a New York Times bestseller.
“Traditionally commencement speakers dole out advice on life and careers to students,” he said. “But I’ve made my career as an aggressively ignorant blowhard with a dismissive attitude toward knowledge in general and to science in particular. So, clearly I have no business in giving you any advice.”
And yet, he did. But first he summed up the student experience, gross medical mysteries and all.
“In the last four years you’ve gone from ‘I don’t want to see that,’ to ‘Hey, come look at this,’” he said.
There’s also that introduction to the requisite cadaver.
“That was awkward I have to imagine,” Colbert said. “But you got used to it. Pretty soon you were calling him Ricky. Making him your Facebook photo.”
There’s those relationships that just will never be the same.
“Your pick-up line may be ‘I love you baby,’” he said. “But inside you’re thinking, ‘Proximity to you triggers the release of phenylethamine from my hypothalamus which in turn triggers extra cellular dopamine and suffuses me with a sense of arousal and well being, reinforced by my evolutionary response to your facial symmetry, part of a hard-wired drive to produce adaptive offspring, baby.’”
He gave a shout out to pharmacists.
“How would you have graduated without them?” he asked, prompting laughter and cheers from the pharmacy graduates. “Who was your favorite study partner? Ritalin? Adorale? Provigil? Anyone have a whole study group? Besides giving me an honorary degree, I’m hoping you can also give me an honorary prescription pad. I heard if you mix OxyContin and Cialis, it gives you heat vision.”
By the end, Colbert got back to the advice.
“Whenever I honestly, sincerely give young people advice … the most common thing I say is go make mistakes. The best thing I ever did was to give myself permission to be wrong,” he said. “I can’t really give you that advice. It’s irresponsible for me to tell graduates of a medical college to go out and make as many mistakes as you can.”
So he encourage the students to, instead, lower patient expectations.
“When they walk into the examination room for the first time maybe you should be wearing the gown,” he said. “When they call you doctor, giggle.”
And if that doesn’t work?
“You just tell them at your graduation, Stephen Colbert reminded you that you are humans and, as such, you always have the right to fail,” he said.
Colbert received an honorary degree. Below are additional photos of the sash and degree presentations, as well as Colbert's guiding of a choral "Happy Birthday," to celebrate his recent 45th.