Comedian and actor Steve Carell gave the keynote speech Monday morning at this year’s Class Day, a ceremony that dates back to 1856.
Despite an early downpour, members of the Class of 2012 laughed along to Carell’s jokes and celebrated the conclusion of their four years at the University.
Carell, known for his work on the television series "The Office" and films such as "The 40-Year-Old Virgin" and "Little Miss Sunshine," provided a lighthearted discussion of the differences between his own college career and those of today’s students given the advent of new technology.
“We wouldn’t send a text to ask a girl out,” Carell said. “When she said no, and she always said no, I’d get the soul-crushing rejection that builds character.”
He then continued on to explore another major difference between his college years and those of the graduating seniors: the lack of computers and electronic services like Google. Without the Internet to look up information, Carell said, the next best option was to “make it up.”
“If a person believed that they were right, it was just as good as actually being right,” Carell said. “And if you weren’t right you could leave before anyone could check the facts.”
While the availability of the Internet would seem to improve the accuracy of information, Carell said that he doubted this idea. After searching his name on Google, he said that he found only “conjecture, lies, mistruths.”
Because of his skepticism about the Internet’s reliability, Carell suggested that graduates embrace their “analog” sides. To this end, Carell noted that he recently purchased a 150-year-old general store in Massachusetts.
He began to close his remarks by arguing that the world needs more of what he called “perceived heroism.”
“If a tree falls in the woods, does the tree get any credit?” he joked. He called Doug Davis ’12 a hero, referring to his buzzer-beating shot that lifted the Princeton men’s basketball team over Harvard in 2011 and sealed its bid in the NCAA Tournament.
“Does Doug Davis strive for excellence personally,” Carell asked, “or does he do great things for the recognition, accolades and reverence like a normal human being?” Carell argued that people do not have to pretend that they are striving for excellence in and of itself all the time.
He then ended his speech with a few words of wisdom.
“Do something kind, make someone laugh, and don’t take yourself too seriously,” he concluded.
After his speech, Carell was presented with a beer jacket from the Class of 2012 as he joined their ranks as an honorary member.
Seven others joined him as honorary members of the Class: Derek DiGregorio, a student at John Witherspoon Middle School; Thomas Dunne, associate dean of the Office of Undergraduate Students; the Rev. Peter French, chaplain of the Episcopal Church of Princeton; Margaret Miller ’80, assistant vice president of the Alumni Council; Sean Ryder, sergeant for community relations in the Department of Public Safety; Dianne Spatafore, the director of Campus Club; and Howard Sutphin, a food service worker in the Rockefeller and Mathey College dining halls.
Spencer Gaffney ’12, who was chosen by the Class to give a student address, spoke after Carell. He started his speech by explaining that he thought about his life as a television show, where he was the main character and his friends and family were supporting actors on his stage.
“The Class of 2012 was a host of characters, each pursuing their own individual plots in their own shows, but now our time together has come to an end. Each of us characters will start [our] own spin-offs,” he said.
Clayton Raithel ’12 followed Gaffney, who began his remarks by stating: “You owe $319, which is the price of a four-year supply of Boudreaux's Butt Paste, an ointment I have had to use constantly for the number of times Princeton has kicked my ass.”
Raithel then told the crowd they could reimburse him after the speech, took out his receipts and continued to explain that despite all of the highlights the University outlines in catalogues, students’ four years at the University involve a lot of hard work as well.
Ultimately, Raithel said, throughout all the challenges of his time at the University, his fellow students and their accomplishments have provided an opportunity for him to learn about himself and his peers.
After the presentations, Dean of Undergraduate Students Kathleeen Deignan presented certain members of the Class of 2012 with various Class Prizes.
Ann-Marie Elvin ’12 and James Valcourt ’12 were recognized once again as winners of the Pyne Prize, the highest University honor bestowed upon undergraduate students.
The Allen Macy Dulles ’51 Award, given to the graduating senior who best embodies the University motto, “Princeton in the nation’s service and in the service of all nations,” was given to Wilson School major Kevin Donahue ’12.
The Frederick Douglass Service Award, which recognizes contributions to understanding of racial minorities, was given to sociology major Sandra Mukasa ’12.
Angela Groves ’12 was honored with the Harold Willis Dodds Prize, which recognizes a senior who embodies the spirit of the University’s 15th president by demonstrating “clear thinking” and “moral courage” over the course of four years at the University.
Lindy Li ’12 received the W. Sanderson Detwiler 1903 Prize in recognition of her service to her peers during her three years as Class of 2012 President. Tilghman presented Li with a key to Princeton at the end of the ceremony, a symbolic gesture that indicates that the members of the Class of 2012 are always welcome back to the University.
Michael Yaroshefsky ’12, the two-term USG president, was given the Class of 1901 Medal, which recognizes the graduating senior who has done the most for his or her class, according to a vote from the seniors.
Alexander Craig ’12 and Alexandra Gecker ’12 shared the Priscilla Glickman ’92 Memorial Prize, in recognition of their imagination and vision in service. Gecker and Craig were both involved with the Student Volunteers Council during their time at the University, coordinating and implementing a number of different service projects between them.
After the awarding of the Class Prizes that recognize service, Athletic Director Gary Walters ’67 presented the Athletic Awards, which were first given out at a Princeton Varsity Club banquet a few days earlier.
Tennis player Ravi Yegya-Raman ’12 was awarded the Class of 1916 Cup while the William Winston Roper Trophy was shared by track and cross country runner Donn Cabral ’12, swimmer Jon Christensen ’12, fencer Alexander Mills ’12 and lacrosse players Tyler Fiorito ’12 and Chad Wiedmaier ’12.
The C. Otto von Kienbusch Award was shared by track and cross country runner Alex Banfich ’12, basketball player Lauren Edwards ’12 and track runner Eileen Moran ’12.
The Art Lane ’34 Award was presented to tennis player Hilary Bartlett ’12, field hockey player Allison Behringer ’12, swimmer Hannah Cody ’12, soccer player Manny Sardinha ’12, Edwards and Wiedmaier.
President Tilghman spoke after the distribution of the awards, providing an overview of the year's events. She said she was excited for the class members as they “head off to the east, west and south sides of the island of Manhattan.”