On Saturday, Fremont High School in Fremont, Nebraska held an online graduation ceremony for its senior class. Nebraska Republican Sen. Ben Sasse, an alumnus of the high school, was tapped to deliver a commencement address.
And what an address it was!
Sasse’s 8-minute speech was, without any question, one of the strangest addresses – of any kind! – I have ever witnessed. (You can watch the full speech here; it’s right at the start of the video.)
Thanks to CNN’s own Allison Gordon, who went through the full speech, I am pleased to offer you a few of the, er, highlights from Sasse’s remarks. Here we go!
* “If you’re a parent, you’re a teacher. Thanks a lot, China. We’re all teachers now.”
* “Let’s be honest, at the start of this, most parents thought we would be visionary math teachers, changing the world. But after about two weeks, we all decided to just default into gym teachers. I’m kidding – my dad was a gym teacher. I’m serious.”
* “Graduates, adults don’t tell you this, but once or twice a week, someone’s gonna ask you to climb a giant rope. No reason. Just climb the rope!”
* “There are a whole bunch of people who make a whole bunch of money by just trying to help other people forget high school. They’re called psychologists. In fact, 95% of all gainfully employed psychologists – and I’m serious, there are dozens of them that are gainfully employed – their job is really just to help people forget high school.”
* “There will always be money to be made in psychology. No, that’s a joke. Do not. If you’re headed to college, do not, do not major in psychology. That part’s not a joke.”
* “You’re gonna say stuff at your high school reunion service ceremonies, ‘Remember that time that China started a big global pandemic that created the worst public health crisis in over a century and brought the economy to its knees and we had to stay at home and everybody was hoarding toilet paper and we all watched this documentary about some weirdo dude who raised tigers?’”
* “Everybody named Jeremy is the worst.”
* “We will bring the economy back. We are going to beat the virus. We’re going to have to have a serious reckoning with the thugs in China who let this mess spiral out of control by lying about it.”
So, yeah. I did warn you it was strange.
In a statement to the Lincoln Journal Star, Sasse spokesman James Wegmann criticized Nebraska Democrats for using the speech to fundraise.
“Like he said in the video greeting, Ben’s proud of each of the graduates — and he believes their generation is tough enough to help lead us through the bumpy economic times ahead. … Ben’s said this for months, because it’s true: The Chinese Communist Party’s coronavirus coverup wasted time that could have contained the spread — those lies cost innocent lives in China and around the world. Pretending graduates are too fragile to hear the truth is silly.”
My educated guess? Sasse was trying to be some combination of funny and relatable. And he didn’t accomplish either goal.
Funny is always hard to pull off. Especially in a pre-recorded speech. By a US senator. The Senate has not been, to date, a place to look for up and coming comedic talent.
And, relatable, well, that didn’t work either. Sasse’s whole affect in his remarks screams old-guy-trying-to-be-cool. Yeah, he’s a senator wearing a tie, but his top button is undone and his tie is pulled down. He’s not totally clean shaven! All he needs is a backward hat and skateboard slung over his shoulder! How do you do, fellow kids!
Look. As someone whose own attempts at humor have sometimes fallen (well) short, I get it. Sasse thought he was being fun/funny and, unfortunately for him, no one on his staff stepped into to tell this hard truth: He wasn’t.
But the difference between me and Ben Sasse is that only one of us is a US senator who was asked to deliver a commencement speech for seniors graduating under extremely difficult (and strange) circumstances. What Sasse delivered was something well short of what those students deserved.