Comedian and William & Mary alumnus Patton Oswalt greeted the university's Class of 2023 frankly: "To the graduating class of 2023, I say three words: you poor bastards." The '91 graduate, returning to his alma mater as the commencement speaker, wove humor and hard truths into his address, delivering a sobering yet inspiring message on the challenges that the new graduates face.
"Democracy is crumbling. Truth is up for grabs. The planet is trying to kill us, and loneliness is driving everyone insane," Oswalt urged the new alumni to "fight for every scrap" of their humanity and dignity. He acknowledged the trials and tribulations of their generation, saying, "Your concerns as you stumble out into reality tomorrow are massive." Yet, he applauded their commitment to improving on past generations, "It's been truly amazing to see how your generation has rebelled against every bad habit of mine and every generation that came before me."
Oswalt honored the graduates for their commitment to mental health, inclusion, and community — values he sees as rejected in previous generations. He used his own journey as an example of the rewards of uncertainty, encouraging graduates to take time to "wander easy," and warned against those who might "commodify every crazy creative caprice that springs out of your cranium." Oswalt concluded with a vision of the future, saying, "So, what I say to all of you is that I've seen things you people wouldn't believe. I've seen porta potties on fire from a helicopter above Woodstock '99. I've seen Charlize Theron glitter in the dark from the backstage wings of the Oscars. All of these moments, and far better ones, are waiting to be experienced and marveled at by every one of you. It's time to live."
Oswalt received an honorary degree at the event, something he described as very surreal because he was "not the best student," he said in a video.
"This is going out to all of the B- students; there is a life for you in the world," he said.