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Dartmouth's with Coco: Conan O'Brien Is the Dartmouth Commencement Speaker

May 13, 2011

So you think you have to be a large university to attract a commencement speaker like Conan O'Brien? Think again. After years of turning down commencement address requests, the comedian and TV talk-show host is headed to Dartmouth College on June 12th to speak at the school's graduation ceremony. And all it took was a phone call.

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When a Big Star Meets a Small College

Conan O'Brien is one of those stars often called only by his first name. Indeed, his late-night talk show, begun in 2010, is titled Conan. The New York Times has said of O'Brien, 'A comic identity as distinctive as his name.' He is also a past host of both Late Night and The Tonight Show. His writing for Saturday Night Live earned him an Emmy in 1989, only one year after joining the show.

conan o

O'Brien is certainly cut from a different cloth than past notable Dartmouth commencement speakers. That list includes President Clinton, former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright and former Canadian UN ambassador Stephen Henry Lewis. O'Brien's last commencement address was at Harvard in 2000.

Dartmouth College, an Ivy League school located in New Hampshire, is a private, liberal arts college offering both undergraduate and graduate degree programs. With an undergraduate population of just over 4,000, Dartmouth is a fairly small school (indeed, the smallest among those in the Ivy League) with a university mentality.

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Father Knows Best

So how did Dartmouth land O'Brien? The reason might be O'Brien's dad.

Dartmouth president Jim Yong Kim, it seems, is a former student of the elder O'Brien, a Harvard University professor. Kim simply asked Thomas O'Brien for his son's phone number, and got it. So he called and asked, 'Conan, would you like to do this?' Probably much to his surprise, O'Brien, himself a graduate of Harvard (Class of 1985), said yes.

'He feels like now he has a lot to say,' Kim said.

Though now Kim might worry (in a good-natured way, of course) about what that might be. The comedian is, of course, known for being a bit outlandish. But having mom and dad in attendance might be the buffer he needs, as O'Brien's parents are planning on being at the ceremony. Kim said jokingly, 'So my hope is that with his father and mother in the audience he's going to do something really funny and not too over the top.'

Find out more about another Harvard graduate and familiar TV face, actress Rashida Jones of 'The Office', and other film and television projects.

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