Whitman commencement offers Idle moments

By Jeff Petersen, The Observer May 28, 2013 11:15 am
The Ohio State University had Barack Obama, Tulane University had the Dalai Lama, Harvard had Oprah Winfrey — and Hampshire College had Bobcat Goldthwait reading Oprah’s speech word for word.

In the sweepstakes for commencement speakers, however, it might be hard to top Whitman College. This year’s commencement speaker at the Walla Walla, Wash., school was Eric Idle, English comedian, actor, author, singer, writer and composer of Monty Python Flying Circus fame.

His speech was no joke. The 70 year old displayed the energy of a 30 year old as he brought the crowd laughs and inspiration.

“I hope I can say something that you can take away with you as you commence your life — or, as the rest of us know, go downhill from here,” Idle said. “After college, it’s a bit like being cast out of paradise.”

Idle told the graduates to learn to trust themselves.

“That’s very vital,” Idle said. “There’s nobody — not Shakespeare, not Einstein — who wouldn’t gladly exchange with you today
being young and alive.”

Best of all, Idle got to hand his daughter, Lily, her diploma as a Class of 2013 graduate (cum laude).

The day before, Idle gave a presentation titled “From Monty Python to Spamalot” before a packed house at Cordiner Hall. 

After about a half hour of monologue, Idle showed a classic Monty Python clip known widely as “The Philosophers’ Football Match,” a sketch depicting a soccer game at the 1972 Munich Olympics between Greek and German philosophers. 

For the first hour of the game the philosophers debated each other. The ball didn’t move an inch. Finally, Idle, playing Socrates, scores a goal to win the match.

To end the festivities Sunday, at graduation, Idle whipped out his guitar and sang “Always Look on the Bright Side of Life,” which he made famous in 1979 during a crucifixion scene in “The Life of Brian.”

Idle made his point, with the band playing and the crowd whistling along. He also may have made The Ohio State University
jealous.