Conan to grads: Failures can become catalyst for reinvention

To say I’ve become obsessed with commencement speeches might be an understatement. I’ve watched Tom Hanks talk at Stanford, Colbert talk at a small college in Illinois, and this morning, Conan address Dartmouth.

I’ve given one commencement speech, way back in 2006. I think it went okay. One of the audience members peed her pants and several more picked their noses and ate it. My commencement speech was to middle-schoolers and kindergartners near my childhood home in Ohio. For my efforts, I received an honorary certificate of participation and a pen.

I haven’t done a commencement speech in a while, but I have delivered several convocation speeches to incoming freshman at universities that are using Where Am I Wearing as a common reader. I will do so again in the fall, which is why I’ve spent so much time watching wisdom-to-students speeches. Conan’s speech at Dartmouth is one of the better ones.

The speech is about 25 minutes long and I recommend watching the whole thing. Jokes account for more than the first half of the speech, but then he gets serious and addresses his perceived, very public failure, when at age 47 his dream changed.

Here are some of his nuggets of wisdom:

There are few things more liberating in this life than having your worst fear realized.

Your path at 22 will not necessarily be your path at 32.

It is our failure to become our perceived ideal that ultimately defines us and makes us unique…your perceived failure can become a catalyst for profound reinvention.

Whatever you think your dream is now, it will probably change, and that’s okay.


I haven’t watched this yet, but love the quote. At 47, I’ve been struggling with the notion that this is pretty much all there is. It would be lovely if my life changed … for the better, I mean, LOL.

Kelsey says:

It’s a shame that so often we have to be shocked into changing our lives. Sometimes what feels like the worst thing is the best thing in the long run.

Let your voice be heard!