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Actor and comedian Vir Das '02 gives the Commencement address at the 173rd Commencement Ceremony.

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Commencement Address by Vir Das '02

Actor and comedian Vir Das '02 encourages the Class of 2018 to "be stupid."

Actor and comedian Vir Das '02 gives the Commencement address at the 173rd Commencement Ceremony.

Watch the Commencement address by Vir Das '02 »

What's up?!

This is wrong.

I have an iPad because it's windy. 

I also have an Indian accent, but I think it's windy enough that, by the time my words reach you, it might sound American.

My parents impressed on me values that you work hard for what you want in life: that you treat people with respect.

I was born in Slovenia, a small, beautiful and then-Communist country in Central Europe.

I have been with Donald for 18 years, and I have been aware of his love for this country since we first met.

Donald loves his country.

Yes, Donald thinks big, No room for small thinking. But Donald gets things done.

I didn't write that shit—that's Melania Trump, your first lady. I just know you guys were drinking last night, I wanted to see how awake you were. Good morning, guys, good morning!

Congratulations to the Class of 2018. Good morning!

It's fine; everybody does that speech. Thank you Michelle Obama.

Thank you for having me here today. This really is an honor; it's good to be back. What a glorious reinforcement of the fact that your faculty, these extraordinarily smart people can sometimes make drastic and fatal decisions. I do not deserve to be here. I'm too young ... not yet. I feel like Knox had its eye on me for a while. They were like, "All right, Vir, come on, do some stuff ..." And then I did a movie and they said, "We like what we see ..." and then they watched the movie and they were like, "Okay, we're gonna wait a while ..." And then Netflix happened, and they were like, "Okay! Give to him quick before he does something shitty again! Give it to him quick, because it's downhill from here."

And I got an email, and it said "Hello from Knox College," and I instantly wrote back, "No, I don't have any money ..." which is what I always write when you guys email. And then they informed me that they wanted me to come and do this and that they had no money for me. And I was like, "Well played, Knox. The prairie finally has some fire."

If you're watching this on YouTube, I'm going to tell a personal story now. This is like the foreplay part of the speech so if you're not from Knox, just skip five minutes ahead, and we'll be deep within the orgy. 

I came to Knox from India in the year 1999, I came here to study economics—or at least that's what I told the lady at the American Embassy. Somehow I want to try an apple bong did not seem like a good idea at the time. I'm proud to say that before I graduated from Knox, I had accomplished one of those goals. It's kind of funny; I got my knowledge from the theatre department and my drugs from the economics department. Just a fact! 

On the first day of orientation, I joined a group of diverse students, because we all know that this College's three major strengths are diversity, inclusion, and coming up with new uses for corn...it's literally half the menu. It's what the gold in purple and gold is for. We were young, we were healthy, and we were excited to be at Knox. Three months later there were nine feet of snow outside, we were twenty pounds heavier, fighting like rabid dogs over bagel pizzas, standing under the one good heater in the Gizmo like angry Bolsheviks ... and even then I remember thinking that this was better than my old life in Slovenia ... a small yet beautiful country in Communist Europe.

And 14 years later here we are, for your revenge. That's all this is, it's your revenge. "Hey, let's hire an adult to write 15 pages and present that shit to us I thought I was done with this stuff.

But I face a dilemma, what do I tell you, you impressionable, incredibly hungover young minds? My parents said, give them good advice, and I said no, they don't deserve good advice; they hired me. They are clearly making bad choices. If this goes well, I'm enabling their self-destructive behavior.

But I am going to try to give you some good advice, just so we can say that technically I gave you a graduation speech, okay?

So ... Good advice: be kind, pay taxes, save a bit, travel a lot, respect your elders, check the stove ... Don't send people pictures of your junk ... because that will wind up in Russia. Never film yourself doing stuff with your junk because they will force you to run for President. 

What do I know: I know that you are ready. How I do I know? I know how tough this school is.

You are at this moment in your life the smartest you will ever be. Your brain is currently sitting on the most amount of information it will ever have. The next 20 years will entail you losing and forgetting all that information...that's all life is. It's the journey from knowing what's what to asking "What?" Old people are dumb as hell, we really are, all right? The people that now hire you, fire you, and tell you what to do ... all of them ... the world knows less than you do right now. You have an upper hand. You have perspectives they cannot have. You are—how do I say this and sound young? You are an intellectual beast! You are savage. Your brain is lit...A.F. [Vir dabs.] So five months from now when you are getting coffee or filing papers in a beastly manner, like a savage, for some old person who makes you look at pictures of their kids and wondering why you majored in Southeast Asian feminist literature, I want you to remember that you have three things we do not. You have knowledge, you have promise, and you have cartilage.

You already know how to handle this world. You are ready.

There! We've technically delivered a Commencement speech. We're done. 

That felt good, didn't it? That felt good. It felt like we made love. It did. I had a good time, and you thought it would last longer. And it will never happen again.

Here's the truth, all right? I'm 38 years old. I'm an actor, I'm a comedian, I'm a clown. I'm a joker, and you already know that, and we don't need to talk about that. "Vir Das's career is of no consequence whatsoever," quotes, The Times of India, June 2016.

My life experience? What is my life experience? I did a Netflix special, I met Shah Rukh Khan, and I got some tattoos....not because I met Shah Rukh Khan, I just like tattoos. If you're American, just google Shah Rukh Khan...you will learn something about Indian romance. He's just a reference because people in India are watching right now on YouTube. When I meaninglessly pander, I go big, ladies and gentlemen. 

But apart from my first love, I also write jokes. Now, here's how you write a joke. You take a fact, a situation, or a person ... and you ask yourself a question. Just any question—What if? How about? Could they? What if? Why don't? And then you add one stupid thing. That's it. That's all a joke is. One stupid thing. You add it, and you have a joke.

Now when you spend your whole life like me, looking for one stupid thing to write down, you often find yourself doing it. And that's what I came to talk to you about tonight: Looking for and doing one stupid thing. Because if you really look around, it's very easy to find. Let's begin with today.

This whole ceremony is stupid. It is. It's stupid. We are in the heat, dressed like obese silk worms, we are wearing hats that you do not have the facial structure to pull off yet. Right? None of you have jawlines, and most of you won't—too much corn in your diet. A comedian is standing where Lincoln and Obama and Clinton and, most importantly, Eva Longoria once stood. At the end of this, I get to call myself Dr. Das, making me the only Indian doctor in the world with zero credibility.

I'm stupid, this is stupid, you're stupid. God, you're so stupid. And that's why this is so wonderful. That's my message to you today. 

Be stupid, just once, really often. Because when you embrace the stupidity in your life, you really live. 

The dictionary defines stupidity as a person or situation that showcases a lack of common sense. I submit to you that common sense is overrated. And much worse than that, it's common. 

Did you like that? I liked that. It's like my thug life moment in the speech. I feel like when the YouTube clips come out, it'll be like me saying, "It's COMMON" BAWNH BAWNH BAWNH BAWNH BAWNH—I'm sorry, you deserve better. I'm sorry. 

So here's the question, how do you be stupid?

By doing what we just did. Taking 20 seconds before you enter a situation to consider what is ridiculous about it and laughing. And letting that courage, because that's all laughter is, leading you to doing one stupid thing.

Now I know what you're thinking. Vir, this doesn't sound realistic. But I submit to you that neither is life. Life is not realistic. Life is bold and painful and ecstatic and overwhelming. Why are you trying to cope with that with tepid emotions in your pocket? You're a beast. [Vir dabs again.] Be dramatic, be bold, but first ... be stupid.

And start really small.

Be stupid in meetings. Most of your life from now is going to be spent in meetings. Meetings, guys, are where people pretend to be interested in people because they are actually interested in things. Take a second before you go in these things and think about how ridiculous they are. Then go in there and say the one thing that you are not supposed to say. Best case scenario, you win them over. Worst case scenario, you are fired, jobless, homeless, but still memorable. I promise you no one remembers the people who agreed with them. If a bald Indian man with spectacles turned around one day and said, "Hey, we should be a independent country," and everyone around him just went, "Yeah, all right," he'd just be known as Mohan Das. But because people disagreed with him and he had to fight, he's now known as Mahatma Gandhi.

Be stupid in love. Get your heart broken. Shoot way above your league. Say outrageously romantic things, propose after a week! Go big and then go home, probably alone, but do it. The worst thing that could happen is you get a reputation as someone who is mushy, clingy, or needy and, as you get older, you'll realize those words mean generous and bold and...needy. I once wrote down 101 reasons why I loved a girl, and I got down on one knee and yelled it to her window as I stood in her garden like an angry stalker Romeo. I LIKE THE WAY THE BROWN LIGHT HITS YOUR EYES!!!!! And, by point 24, that girl told me she was seeing someone else. It didn't work out. But I promise you anytime in her life that that girl sees a list, be it grocery or to-do, she's going to think "Hey, Vir's was bigger." Probably the only situation in her life where she might think that. 

Send stupid emails. I'm serious. End your emails with things like, "Yours hungrily" and my favorite,  xoxoxov$$##&* U with the colon on top that makes you look like you hit your keyboard really angrily ... or typed in German, or both. I like to use abbreviations that people can't understand. I like to end my emails with hahahaha LOM ... just to leave them wondering. Laugh out mouth? They'll either love your emails, or hate them and show them to everyone ... but either way they will be looking forward to them.

Every single day ... do one stupid thing with your body. Just one. No matter how your body ends up looking. Those are just phases in your life affected by how lonely you are, what magazines you are reading, and whatever a Kardashian is doing. But, I'm saying, jump for no reason, dance badly, never underestimate the power of a pelvic thrust in a public place. Play with your body. Play with your body It will save your heart when you are losing your mind. I swear to God, once a week I come out of the shower with nothing but a towel on, and I make direct eye contact with my wife, and I say, "Yes I am—" and then I drop the towel and I sing, "born free...as free as the wind blows ..." And then I prance around the room naked like a lion in Africa. I'm five foot eight, I have no muscles. My body looks like it was designed in IKEA. But if my wife ever finds herself in the presence of another naked man, he may be the flavor of the month, but I'm the king of the jungle, baby. You think old people regret the push-ups they didn't do, the keto they didn't follow? no, they regret the puddles they didn't jump in, the lifts they didn't fart in, the trees they didn't fall out of, and the beds they didn't dive into. There's wisdom in your mind and truth in your heart, but, God, there's beats in your ass, and fun in your crotch and magic in your hands. I say find it every day.

Be stupid in failure and in success. On the day that you lose ll of your money, buy yourself an expensive glass of champagne. On the day that you become a millionaire, go have a 79-cent cheeseburger. Show the universe and, more importantly, yourself that this moment doesn't own you, you own this moment.

Be stupid in friendship. Your friendships are going to change at 4 p.m. today. You're going to lose people that you are completely yourselves with and run into this world of adults, these adults that you will talk about  paying bills and having kids with. But I say to you that you need to to retain these people, these people you can talk about splitting bills and making kids with. Never outgrow these people. Keep them in your life. Do what it takes. Show up at 4 a.m., beat up the douchebag boyfriend, open up your couch ... even though everyone tells you to throw them out, don't. Because outgrowing them means growing up, and what's the fun in that? Some of my best friends, we don't meet each other more than once a year, but there's not a thing I wouldn't do, a flight I wouldn't take if I got that phone call ... I met them here at this College, they are sitting over there, we smoked cigarettes over there for four years, and we will be at Cherry Street later tonight. We have no money, buy some old people a drink ... please. 

Be a stupid person in the bedroom. I'm not put yourself at risk, but if you're in the bedroom and you're not laughing, that's just not good sex. And if you're laughing too much, or just one of you is laughing ... also not good sex. My personal strategy? Don't worry about performing, worry about amusing. Tell a joke, ask a question, try something, try something new, apologize when it doesn't happen, admit that you were trying something, tell a joke, ask a question, repeat.

Be stupid in sickness. Write your will and testament when you have the common cold. Be dramatic about that shit. You might learn something about yourself. Like who you want at your bedside when that moment  comes. Most of you, God willing, are going to have long and healthy lives. But when your body starts to fail you, be stupid so that the people around you suffer less. My grandfather was the greatest man I ever met. On his 90th birthday, when his entire family gathered around to pay tribute to him, 300 or 400 of us, in the middle of the third speech, my grandfather looked at me and went [slashes across throat] shut it down. He wasn't pissed off. There was an ice cream station 200 meters to his right. He picked a vanilla ice cream over the celebration of his own legacy ... now that's a goddamned legacy.

Be stupid in your grief. You're going to lose people and you do them a huge disservice if you don't laugh at them when they are gone.

Be stupid in arguments. You know, you're going to argue with people about remote controls, and home delivery, what to name your children ... Sidebar: If you name your children after fruits or locations, that is child abuse, please stop. But in those arguments you will say many, many things that you regret, and if you throw one stupid thing in there, if you're lucky, that's all you will remember about that argument. When my wife yells at me, I like to sing songs. That's what I do in fights. She's yelling, and I'm like [singing] "Let it go, let it go....It was way before we met." And in that moment my wife looks at me like Ma Anand Sheela looks at people from Oregon, but I don't care because in that moment, I'm doing a violin solo and I need some time.

Speaking of which, always have music in your ears. You're the star of your own movie, please pick the soundtrack. And if your playlist doesn't include one stupid uncool song that make you feel awesome ... you are not having enough fun. For me, "Are You Gonna Be My Girl?" by Jet and "Firework" by Katy Perry. I do not know what huh-huh-huh is or why it shoots across the sky-sky-sky, but it makes me feel awesome.

Be stupid with your politics because your politics are already outdoing you in that department. Whether you are red, blue, right or left, you know more than any generation before you. The question is, can you do more? How long a leader sticks around is no longer a testament to his abilities; it is a testament to your tolerance. That's how a leader stays. So how much can you take, and what are you willing to do? Are you stupid enough to take the day off to join the march, empty out your account for the underdog candidate, Stand not with, or alongside, but in front of someone who is not your kind because they happen to be in danger.

Be stupid with your social media because I have to tell you that validation isn't real. Be careful. You don't have to broadcast fantastic lives that you aren't actually living. What people think about you is none of your business. Don't pollute your moments with other people's opinions. Think about this moment that you are in right now. The sun in in your face, there's sweat dripping into your ass crack, you are trying to decipher what the Indian accent is saying. This is a real moment. Do you really need a thumbs up on Facebook to make you feel like this moment really happened? I'm not saying don't tweet, don't Instagram, don't Facebook. I'm just saying when you do, do it without a filter, with a funny face, and never, ever, ever read the comments. Never read the comments. Okay, when you are reading the comments, please do not reply to the comments. Okay? When you are replying to the comments, please, do not be condescending and defend yourself. DO NOT feed the troll. That's all I have to say. When you are feeding the troll, what I like to do is, agree with them up top, and then disagree with them and drop the mic. It confuses them. What I like to do is go, Yes, I know my face looks tired and haggard, I woke up looking fresh ... but then I read your bio...twice. Yes, I know I've put on a little weight ... it's all that  money I've been making, You'll find out someday #thestruggleisreal. Or, yes, I know my last movie flopped ... much like your mom did—okay, never mind.

Be stupid with your money, please, you're gonna lose it all anyway. Governments change, businesses die, economies crash, that's life. But if you want that one thing for yourself, that one stupid thing, that bedazzled Tesla, that monogrammed pitbull, that antique 1923 iPhone, I think you should have it. I spent my whole life not spending my money. My bankers used to come to me and say, "Mr. Das, you have all this money. You need to make your money work for you. Sir, you need to circulate all of your money." And I was like, no, because this money was circulating before it was mine. Do you know how many dick jokes I had to write to stop this money from circulating? And I still lost all of my money. What's the worse that could happen—you lose your cash, you go broke, and you end up feeling like you do right now? You look pretty happy to me, and you guys are financially screwed right now. You are bankrupt. You gave this College $200,000; they didn't even give you a tent, ladies and gentlemen. So spend on that one stupid thing for yourself. Except bitcoin ... because that shit isn't real. 

Be stupid with your ambition. Sure, you wanna be a billionaire, CEO, bottle service, but is there one stupid thing ... do you want to learn to roll sushi, do krav maga, be a jazz drummer? You are never too old to learn a skill or a hobby. You are just too old to be good at it. But I promise if you take up one of these stupid things, you will work harder and be much more fulfilled by it. Taking the escalator to the higher office is very, very easy, but playing the intro to "Stairway to Heaven?" That shit is hard.

I don't have kids, but I say be stupid with family. No one has perfect childhoods, remember that, including the kids you're about to have. So forgive your parents, love your parents, and do one stupid thing with your parents, just one more. When you are done teaching them how Alexa works and paying the bills and putting their teeth on the table by the bed ... do just one more thing. Hit the strip club, smoke a joint, play gin, drink gin, whatever you like. But do it. In my house, we drink tea. We drink many cups of tea because the more tea, the more conversation. Three, four, five cups in a row, and then we tell each other it is getting late and we go to sleep and then can't sleep because we are too caffeinated, then we wake up in the morning and drink more tea because of how sleepy we are. That's my house, just wide-eyed clockwork orange pekoe darjeeling drinkers with jittery arms and shaky conversation. My house is a crackhouse with great conversation. Everybody will tell you that you can't choose your family, that's bullshit. You can't pick your family, but you can choose them every single day, or, at the very least, you can choose another cup of tea.

If you're an artist, be stupid in your art. You must. Where did I learn to do that? Here. At Knox College. I had never written a joke before in my life, it was 2 a.m., I was in Seymour Library, I was writing a paper for Roy Andersen's class, and something happened. I decided I was going to be a comedian. I printed 100 posters using the copy code from the Career Center—thank you, Terrie—for a show called "Brown Men Can't Hump" It's not offensive, there are 1.3 billion of us, clearly somebody's humping, all right? But, at 2 a.m., I plastered Seymour and the other buildings with those posters. I hadn't written one joke yet. But the poster was up, which meant I had to come through. I gave myself a month and a half and wrote 90 minutes of what barely qualified as jokes, and the first time I ever did stand-up was here at Kresge for 500 of my friends ... and from that day onwards, I was a comedian.

Because of one stupid thing, a poster at 2 a.m. A stupid thing. A poster that was the answer to a question, "Hey, what if there was a brown George Carlin?" And at the end of my routine ... there wasn't. And there never will be.

It's been 16 years. And 16 years later, this College asked me to come back and stand where Lincoln and so many qualified people stood. I don't know. Maybe I'm your one stupid thing. 

So I want to thank you for this honor. I'd  like to thank Ivan Davidson and Liz Metz and Bob Whitlach for changing my life in real, tangible way.

It's time for me to go home now ... to my home in Slovenia ... a beautiful country in once-Communist Europe.

So before I leave you today, I say, be stupid. Just once, often. Unapologetically, and deliberately. What's the worse thing that could happen? Somebody will call you stupid? Somebody will say your life a joke? I 'm saying you should be that somebody. I'm saying you should own it. And on that day when your life flashes before your eyes, be it on your deathbed or just creepily every day on Instagram, you'll be laughing. And laughter is courage. 

That's all I know how to tell you I have no wisdom. I'm just a comedian. I just want to see you laugh some more.

Congratulations to the graduating class of 2018. My name is Vir Das. All the best. Have a wonderful future, guys.

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Printed on Monday, September 23, 2019