TORONTO -- Already dubbed “the worst graduation speech of all time,” Nebraska Sen. Ben Sasse’s commencement address for high schoolers covered a lot of uninspiring ground over the weekend.

Sasse’s apparent attempts at straight-talking humour began with innocuous, low-hanging quips at self-isolation fashion, but quickly descended into insult, conspiracy theory and existential dread.

A clip of the remarks has been viewed more than 2 million times on Twitter, with users variously calling the senator a “clown” and “terrible comedian.”

“He couldn't have been more condescending, unfunny, political, and insulting than he was in that speech. Well done, @SenSasse, you've uninspired thousands,” read one tweet.

Here’s a brief rundown of some of the least motivational moments from Sasse’s take on a tradition that’s typically meant to have the opposite effect. 


Anyone named Jeremy who was watching Sasse’s address might not have appreciated the bit about murder hornets. To further emphasize that students are graduating during a volatile time, the senator brought up the invasive species of hornet and joked that an insect with that name would surely adjust to its label.

“We all sort of do grow into our names,” he said. “That’s why everybody named Jeremy is the worst. Sorry, Jeremy. Not my fault, blame your mom and dad.”


Sasse went grim and offensive early on in his speech, blaming “thugs in China” for the COVID-19 pandemic, which has claimed more than 315,000 lives worldwide, most in the United States, where some citizens have protested lockdowns, closures and physical distancing measures despite the continued spread of the virus.

“Thanks a lot China,” he said. “You’re going to say stuff at your high school reunion ceremonies (in 25 to 30 years): ‘Remember that time that China started a big global pandemic that created the worst public health crisis in over a century and brought the economy to its knees?”


Sasse also joked that his own generation was “a lot fitter than you people” in an attempt at using a rope-climbing analogy to tell grads what their future holds.

“Every now and then the rope is a metaphor, but honestly most of the time it’s just a big rope and you have to climb it,” he said, apparently forgetting that the graduates had already completed the years of schooling in which literal rope-climbing in a gymnasium was likely to happen. “If you don’t get that joke, talk to your mom and dad, back in the day when we were a lot fitter than you people are, we used to have to climb ropes all the way up to the ceiling of the gym all the time.”


Staying on the topic of physical education, Sasse also disparaged gym teachers during his speech, though conceded that his own father was one. 

“We’re all teachers now,” he said, directing his remarks to parents at home with the graduates, before implying physical education is a lower form of teaching. 

“Let’s be honest, at the start of this, most parents thought we would be visionary math teachers changing the world. But after about two weeks, we all just decided to default into gym teachers.”


Many of the graduates Sasse was addressing were likely unsure of what the next few years hold for their academic or professional careers. Some may have been accepted into college or university programs, even perhaps doubting their choices considering the economic environment they are commencing into.

That potentially dismaying set of circumstances was made even more unsettling for any potential psychology majors when Sasse belittled the mental health profession by also downplaying their high school experience. 

“A lot of us spend a lot of our lives trying to forget as much about high school as we possibly can,” he said. “There will always be money to be made in psychology. That’s a joke. Do not, if you’re headed to college, do not major in psychology. That part’s not a joke.”


If the earthly concerns of COVID-19, an economic downturn and murder hornets weren’t enough, Sasse chose to go galactic to close out his speech, noting that a black hole four times larger than the sun had been discovered.

“Scientists are now going to classify it as a major, major bummer,” he said.

But finally he recognized that, in fact, he might be the major bummer:

“Why am I giving you all this bad news?” he asks in the final moments after a solid five minutes of demoralizing blather. “You all have the potential to have grit and resilience and determination and to get through this.”