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Stephen Colbert to NU graduates: I’ll inspire you by talking about me

“In my experience you will truly serve only whyou love” Stephen Colbert told Northwestern’s Class 2011 Friday. | Curtis Lehmkuhl~Sun-Times

“In my experience you will truly serve only what you love,” Stephen Colbert told Northwestern’s Class of 2011 on Friday. | Curtis Lehmkuhl~Sun-Times Media

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Updated: September 24, 2011 12:24AM

Fake newsman Stephen Colbert, a 1986 graduate of Northwestern University, returned to his alma mater Friday to let graduates know: “I am not here to talk about me. I am here to inspire you by talking about me.”

Delivering Northwestern’s commencement address at Ryan Field, the star of Comedy Central’s “The Colbert Report,” cracked wise about his time at Northwestern, referenced recent campus news including the notorious Human Sexuality class where two guest speakers performed a live sex show and told graduates that there is no winning in life, only loving and serving others.

“In my experience you will truly serve only what you love,” he told the Class of 2011 during the self-described “meaningful part of the speech.” “Because service is love made visible.”

Colbert seemed to relish the experience, waving enthusiastically at parents and graduates as he walked on the stage with Northwestern President Morton Schapiro. He was one of four receiving honorary degreees.

During his speech, Colbert said on similar occasions he often is not sure if the group inviting him is looking for the real Stephen Colbert or his on-screen character, a hyper conservative blowhard also named Stephen Colbert.

“Today I am fairly confident that I am me because I went to Northwestern University and my character went to Dartmouth,” he said. “So he was there for graduation last weekend and heard Conan speak. And it was a really good speech but he was hoping it was going to be Leno.”

He said that a recent poll of private universities found Northwestern students had “the lowest desire to have sex.”

“I think that is possibly because this year Northwestern offered some truly advanced instruction in sexuality,” he said about the sex toy incident to sustained cheers from the audience. “I saw some photos of the lab equipment and I’m thinking you may have been scared off sex forever.”

He said the sex toy custom made from a power tool might have been “a stealth abstinence program or a viral ad campaign for True Value hardware.”

“Graduates, good luck explaining what I’m talking about to your grandmother at brunch,” he said.

Colbert also mocked the threatened crackdown by the City of Evanston, using an outdated brothel law, on groups of students living together off-campus.

“Before everybody jumps on me I am not saying that everybody at Northwestern will become prostitutes,” he said. “Obviously the Kellogg [MBA] graduates will become pimps.”

During his speech, Colbert referenced his own time as a theater major at NU, telling students “I didn’t want to just play Hamlet. I wanted to be Hamlet.”

But dreams changed, he said, and that’s not always a bad thing.

“You have been told to follow your dreams,” he said. “But what if it’s a stupid dream?”

Referencing his own comedy background, Colbert said there are no winners in improv or in life.

“You cannot win improv. And life is an improvisation. .You have no idea what’s going to happen next and you’re mostly just yanking ideas out of your a-- as you go along . Like improv, you cannot win your life. Even when it might look like you are winning.”

That message particularly resonated with graduate Chris Sell, who said he was expecting the speech to be funny and was pleased that it was meaningful as well.

“I thought the serious part was really great, about not winning,” said Sell, a 22-year-old political science major who is going to work at Google. “Going through school here you are always focused on winning.”

Jeanette Ward, 82, of Los Angeles, praised Colbert as the “best commencement speaker ever” though her favorite moment of the morning was watching her grandson Michael Ward graduate.

“I am so proud,” she said.

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