By Andrew Lin
One of Harvard’s many stars comes back on campus.
In case you haven’t already heard, whether via the news or through some envy-inducing Facebook selfies; or simply over the endless, undulating Harvard grapevine, Conan O’Brien was on campus this Friday! For those among our readership who do not follow the shifting world of TV talk shows, (or alternately those unfamiliar with the moving pictures on those new-fangled picture screens they call televisions) Conan O’Brien ’85 is a History and Literature concentrator of Mather House who rocketed to fame as a TV talk show host on network and cable. His connections to Harvard, however, invariably pulled him back to our humble university on the Charles, although the trip’s purpose – an hour-and-a-half-long conversation about the merits of a liberal arts education – did befit his star-struck status. And Harvard pulled out all the stops too: from University president Drew Faust as moderator to the mahogany glory of Sanders Theater to a private reception in the opulent Loeb House, Conan was feted as a star – and provided a fine performance as well.
If at this juncture you’re wondering how on earth you could have missed this opportunity, take solace in the fact that tickets were offered via lottery only: a couple of occasional emails sent over House list-servs offered lotteried tickets for the event, which filled Sanders virtually to capacity (although the event was live-streamed over the Internet as well). The talk itself was delivered in two main parts: a feature discussion between Conan and Drew Faust and a Q & A session between Conan and brave Harvard students willing to take one of four microphones interspersed throughout the auditorium. The main discussion on the merits of a liberal education allowed Conan to present a nuanced message of self-discovery, namely with regard to finding your individual talents, enduring the ups and downs of life (humor as a “defense mechanism”), and taking the risks and opportunities which present themselves as time passes. Serious comments on the toxic nature of fame (including an inspired analogy between famous people and astronauts who spend too much time in space) and allusions to the incompetence of generals during the Civil War and World War I also jostled in space with Conan’s more typically wacky and self-deprecating sense of humor.
Indeed, the comedic highlights of the evening were many and flowed naturally from the conversation: from Conan’s student-goaded attempts to “dab” (a new dance craze in which one seemingly imitates a sneezing motion) to his detailing of an ostensible encounter with Drew Faust in a seedy dive-bar a year prior, the audience was enthralled and captivated by Conan’s bravura performance. And Conan himself was pleased too, stating that it was nice that “the laughs flowed naturally” in conversation at the private reception in Loeb House, which followed. The reception itself (hosted by Drew Faust) was also a lotteried affair, featuring a 10-strong lottery-selected delegation from Mather House (the golden ticket of yours truly) as well as current and former UC presidents/vice presidents and an impressive selection of other bigwig adults and students. Between mixing with this illustrious sampler of Harvard’s current and former affiliates, Conan found the time to be presented with a Mather sweatshirt by the Mather delegation while being the subject of endless selfies and photos.
Unfortunately, however, Conan did not stay at Harvard for very long during this visit: during the main conversation in Sanders, he alluded to a rapidly-pending trip to South Korea to visit an ultra-dedicated fan-group. Chance, however, bequeathed the opportunity for some lucky Matherites to meet their house’s most famous alum. On his way to the airport, Conan briefly stopped by the Mather JCR to sign the giant poster of Conan inside – all while flanked by a horde of surprised Matherites enjoying their happy hour. And indeed that was what Conan provided for a lucky campus tonight: a happy hour and a half of warm entertainment and good life advice – weighty, pithy life lessons, lessons that teach us to embrace failure and chase our dreams. And looking at Conan, such advice certainly cannot steer you wrong.
Andrew Lin ’17 (firstname.lastname@example.org) sincerely wishes that he could attend more receptions in the oh-so-gorgeous Loeb House.