Peter Sagal imparts pretend-wisdom to Warren Wilson College grads

May 17, 2014

  172 graduates from Warren Wilson College will receive their bachelor’s degrees today. Delivering the commencement address is Peter Sagal, host of NPR’s Wait Wait… Don’t Tell Me!


“There are really only two ways, roughly speaking, to be invited to be a commencement speaker," Sagal said.


"The first is to accomplish something significant and important that would make people want to hear what sort of wisdom you have. The second is to wait until you’re old enough that your college friends become college presidents."


The ever-modest Sagal said that in his case, it was the latter. Turns out, when Sagal was an undergraduate at Harvard, he became pals with a graduate student named Steve.


That pal turned out to be Steven Solnick, president at Warren Wilson College.


“So he called me. Clearly he was desperate--I can’t imagine the people who didn’t return his calls. But I was invited by President Solnick to come and be the speaker, and I’m very excited to do so.”


Believe it or not, this is the first commencement address Sagal has ever given.


“If i were to give actual wisdom based on my life," Sagal said, "It would be screw around a lot, waste your expensive education that your parents impoverished themselves for, and then you’ll luck into something really cool that’ll give you more fame and success that you deserve.


"I just don’t think that’s a responsible thing to do, to advise kids to do that. They’ll just be disappointed and sad. So I need to imagine what it would be like to be a wise person who worked for and deserved whatever success I have, and then think of like what those lessons would be. There’s a great line in the David Mamet movie Heist in which Gene Hackman says, ‘I’m not smart, I just imagine what a smart person would do and then I do that.’ Similarly, I'll just imagine what a wise person would say and then I’m gonna say that.”


Sagal says while he's looking forward to delivering the address, he’s most excited about the possibility of an honorary degree.


“I haven’t asked because I’m afraid they’re saying no. I’m just hoping I’m getting an honorary degree. Because you know if it’s even within spitting distance from an honorary doctorate, everybody is calling me Dr. Sagal from now on. Everyone. Including my dog.“


Maybe-Dr.-Sagal is delivering his speech this morning 10 on the lawn of Sunderland Residence Hall at Warren Wilson College.