Bob Newhart: "Humor Makes Us Free"
17 May 1997
View a copy of Bob Newhart's Commencement Address on-line.
ctor Bob Newhart addressed his own profession, comedy, during remarks today at the 108th commencement at The Catholic University of America. "Humor," he said, "makes us free."
Citing earthquake jokes in Los Angeles - "The traffic is stopped but the freeways are moving" - Newhart said, "Humor is our way of dealing with the inexplicable."
"Laughter gives us distance," he added. "It allows us to step back from an event over which we have no control and deal with it and then move on with our lives. It helps distinguish us from animals."
Discussing his Catholic heritage, he said, "I was raised Catholic and a lot of my friends are Jewish. Others are Protestant. All religions basically are saying the same thing and that is, "be nice to each other."
He noted that one of the hardest parts about being Catholic was when he learned the 10 Commandments for his first communion.
"The one that threw me was 'thou shalt not covet thy neighbor's wife.' Now I was 7 and I always thought the priest was saying thou shalt not 'cover' thy neighbor's wife," and I didn't want to do that anyway. But apparently it's only a sin if you cover thy neighbor's wife. You can cover all the other wives in the neighborhood and you're home free. But the minute you cover thy neighbor's wife, you'd better get to confession."
Newhart opened by saying, "I'm not sure you have the right man." Graduates and their families applauded and made it clear he was the right man. He closed in the same vein: "People with a sense of humor seem to be more humble."
University president Brother Patrick Ellis, F.S.C., in introducing Newhart, noted that the actor had "lighted our lives . . . in this overcast century."
Newhart, whose son Timothy graduated from the university in 1989 with a degree in English literature, received an honorary Doctor of Humane Letters degree.
The Class of '97 included 1,717 degree candidates. There were approximately 1,409 degrees conferred during Saturday's commencement, held outdoors on the east steps of the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception, adjacent to the campus. There were 76 Ph.D.s, 646 master's, 33 licentiates, and 629 bachelor's.
Catholic University's Columbus School of Law will confer 308 juris doctor degrees at 2 p.m. Saturday, May 24 in the National Shrine. Tim Russert of "Meet the Press" will speak.
Honorary degrees also were presented to actor Philip Michael Bosco and the Rev. John F. Hotchkin.
Bosco, a 1957 graduate of Catholic University's Department of Drama, was the 1989 Tony Award winner for his performance in The Heiress and the 1987 Obie Award for Lifetime Achievement in the Theatre.
Hotchkin is the executive director of the Secretariat for Ecumenical and Interreligious Affairs for the National Conference of Catholic Bishops. Catholic University is the nation's only university established by the U.S. Catholic bishops and is the national university of the Catholic Church.
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