Here's What Joan Rivers Told Penn's Graduating Seniors In 1989
September 24, 2014 at 10:10 am
We at UTB have been mourning the loss of legendary comedienne Joan Rivers and continue to send our well wishes to her daughter, Melissa Rivers C'89. When we found out Joan addressed seniors in Irvine on Ivy Day at Melissa's graduation, we had to know what the hilarious diva said.
Since Joan wasn't the official Commencement speaker that year, the transcript wasn't online, but thanks to Nancy from University Archives, we have obtained a detailed recap of her sharp-tongued speech from the Pennsylvania Gazette. In 1989, she'd already been on the scene trailblazing for female comics for 25 years, and unsurprisingly, her talk is a lost treasure. Now, 25 years after Melissa's graduation, we present below the highlights Joan Rivers' Ivy Day address.
When they asked me to speak at graduation, I thought they meant GRADUATION. I'd been looking forward to quaffing champagne and wearing a black cap and gown – to match my roots. And I thought I'd be receiving a degree! They said I wasn't going to get the degree, then they said I was going to get the degree, then they said I wasn't going to get the degree. It became a situation I'm sure some of these seniors can easily relate to!
It seems like yesterday my late husband and I were talking to our daughter Melissa about choosing a college. The choice was made more difficult by our California standards. There, higher education is anything above crayons; the only culture you find out there is in yogurt. The idea of a really deep, philosophical, existentialist question is, "How tan am I?" We went to Bennington, where I was shocked at tuition – you could support South Korea for one year on it. And we went to Williams, where the most popular course was "How To Speak To Your Servants Without Using Your Facial Muscles." We went to Brown and we sat in on a philosophy class where they discussed, "If a tree falls in a forest and no one is around to hear it, who gives a shit?"
[At the first Penn football game I went to], Melissa had bet on Penn, and I bet on the number of cheerleaders who didn't have nose jobs.
I'd like to tell you one thing, which is the truth as I see it. Please, everyone, look to your right, and look to your left, and look all around you – because right now, this is as good as it's gonna get for a long, long time.
I hope all of you learn to fail, and plan to fail, and fail early on. Failure is the best thing that can ever happen to anybody. Not only did each failure in my life teach me something, it made me stronger. And moved me one step closer to success.
Don't be proud. If you think the world is waiting for you now that you've graduated, you're wrong. You think you're hot. You think you graduated from Penn and Wharton: big deal. Nobody's waiting for you. Try any path you can, go through any door that opens. Don't wait for the right moment, because right moments come out of wrong moments.
Barbra Streisand is probably one of the biggest stars in the world, right? But if you think of her as unknown – she was no beauty: ug-o nose, stupid-looking crossed eyes, great voice, but nobody cared. She would go from audition to audition to audition. Nobody wanted her. Finally, in desperation, she sneaked into [an] audition for The Sound of Music. The call was for a 16-year-old, blonde, blue-eyed, young, very pretty Aryan. They're looking for a Nazi. Perfect for Barbra! And she has the nerve to sing for them. [Someone told her], try nightclubs, which she did, and [eventually], she was discovered. She became a major, major star. And from that day on, I haven't heard from the bitch.
If you don't think [love and money] are related, spend a week in Hollywood. John Paul Getty once said – and I agree – "If you know how much money you have, you haven't got enough." Get out there, work hard, and thank God we're living in a country where the sky is still the limit. And the stores are open late. And you can even shop from your bed, thanks to television!
I was one who, for about a minute and a half, went around saying, "Money doesn't make you happy." Yes, you can be happy without it. But it opens a lot of doors...From money, I turned to love, which is money's first cousin. Look for love, and when you find it, grab it with both hands. And if it isn't there at the moment, don't be discouraged, because believe it or not, love comes to everybody. Even ug-os.
When love arrives, you have to make a choice: should I buy a real sofa or a sectional? A sectional is good because then you can split it up if it doesn't work out, but I'm saying to you all, please get the sofa. Go for the gold. Don't live together. Get married. It sounds dull, but marriage is just like living together – except you get presents.
Success doesn't mean everyone's gonna love you. Forget that. Success is short-lived, and you never want to trust success. Enjoy it for the moment, then, for God's sake, go back to work. Never forget that work is the reason you became successful.
You think your childhood is over, but as long as you've a parent left, all you graduates will always be a child to somebody. Always remember, no matter how old you are, a light will always be in the window at your parents' home for you. You can always come home. You can come for two days, for two weeks, for two years – even though that's kind of pushing it a little bit.
I was asked to speak her today because I'm funny and I'm caustic and I'm cheap. That's no the reason I accepted. I came because I wanted to pay tribute publicly to my daughter and to her friends and to the institution which has supported them and nurtured them and, please God, educated them. And what I mean by "educated": I think that means that Penn has taught all of you to see, to hear, to smell, taste and touch.
You're college graduates now. Use your education. Remember, it's not who you know...It's WHOM.
Sincere and witty, as always. We wish we could've been there in '89. Here's to you, Joan.