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Oswalt to Class of 2023: “You Poor Bastards! Work Hard So You Can Wander Easy”

Patton Oswalt graduated from the College of William and Mary in 1991. The comedian and actor returned to Williamsburg, Virginia, May 19 to address his now fellow alumni, the Class of 2023.

I just wanted to say to the president and the administration five words…: “Thank you for this privilege.” And to my teachers, my professors who I had then and to the professors here now, I say four words: “I cherish your guidance.” And to the graduating class of 2023, I say three words: “You poor bastards.”

…Your concerns as you stumble out into reality tomorrow are massive. Democracy is crumbling. Truth is up for grabs. The planet’s trying to kill us, and loneliness is driving everyone insane.

…I basically breezed into a world full of trivia and silliness and fun. You are about to enter a hellscape where you will have to fight for every scrap of your humanity and your dignity.

…You do not have a choice to be anything but extraordinary. Those are the times you’re living in right now [Patton Oswalt, commencement address, College of William and Mary, 2023.05.19, transcribed from Youtube by CAH/DFP].

Yet the extraordinarity to which self-depracting 2.8-GPA graduate Oswalt summons this year’s graduates includes a radical whimsical randomness:

Take a lead from the daydreamers and the confused and the seekers. Obviously you should work hard, and play hard, but you should also wander easy….

Everything extraordinary in my life came from the wandering. And that’s not to say I didn’t work hard and that you shouldn’t work hard, but don’t work hard to acquire things. Word hard so that you can buy yourself the time to wander easy.

Use whatever skills you have to carve out days of randomness and adventure, because there are people out there—and they’ve always been out there, just these days they’re louder and they have more toys to amplify their voice—but there are people out there who want to manage every moment, they want to divvy up every dream, and they want to commodify every crazy caprice that springs out of your cranium. Don’t let them. Be human in all of its bedlam and beauty and madness and mercy for as long as you can and in any way you can [Oswalt, 2023.05.19].

Labor and material wealth should not form the center of our lives. We must labor and accumulate some wealth to survive. But we labor and store up wealth to make possible the days we need to muse and dream and come up with the extraordinary empathy, ideas, and radical departures from plan and past necessary to save the future.

Related Randomness: Ten years ago, Patton Oswalt created this brilliant and prescient speech for NBC’s Parks and Recreation. He created the eight-minute filibuster on the spot.


  1. P. Aitch 2023-06-02 07:57

    Accumulate wealth to become an artistic patron.
    – The very notion of a patronage society fills the air with intoxicating possibilities. For all those who have been struggling to make ends meet, hoping to carve a career in the arts, it is a most welcome turn of events.
    With patrons at their side, artists will have the financial security they need to transform their wildest imaginings into reality. It’s like stepping into a dream where passion and talent are all that matter, where one can pursue one’s art without fear of running afoul of the censors or creditors.
    As the champagne flows and the strings hum, I imagine the painters, writers, and musicians dancing with renewed vigor, their faces alight with the promise of a world where creativity is celebrated, and the arts are the true measure of civilization.

  2. Arlo Blundt 2023-06-02 13:22

    I think if I had a young adult graduating from college or high school this year, I would give them a book (any of them, he’s written several) by Jimmy Carter. We need another President like him, sometime, anytime.

  3. Donald Pay 2023-06-02 17:15

    I’m too old, now, to “wander easy.” I love to hike, but it’s not that easy sometimes. Shouldn’t it be “easily.” A college grad should know. I’m hung up on adverbs lately. I admit, I slip back into South Dakotan pretty easy. Mr. Smith, my eighth grade English teacher, would be appalled with my writing and speaking. He was strict on the adverbs and adjectives. At any rate, I looked it up, and found there are footwear products at Kohl’s that are named “Wander Easy.” Maybe he was pushing sandals.

  4. John 2023-06-02 20:07

    US life expectancy is 50th in the world. 50th.
    And continues slipping.
    US food quality/purity is crap, as is the US lazy car culture whereby obese people expend no energy to travel. Graduation speakers like Patton Oswald didn’t need to say – live in a Blue state, for that is a given that the life expectancy in Blue states is higher than in conservative states.
    SD grads – go to Minnesota and expect to live 3 years longer than if you remain in South Dakota. Your life license is 2 years longer in Colorado.

    Meanwhile dolts like Noem deflect from our real problems by blaming “those people” at the border for our self-imposed ills.

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