Bill Cosby to Temple Grads: Algebra Easier Than Cotton Picking

The Cos is always good for a memorable, bizarre commencement speech.

Last Thursday, Temple University held its 127th Commencement Exercises at the Liacouras Center on North Broad Street. Inquirer co-owner (well, at least for now) Lewis Katz gave a pretty good speech after receiving his honorary doctorate, and singer Jill Scott said a few inspiring words after getting hers.

And then, as the nearly two-hour ceremony came to a close, Temple President Neil D. Theobald asked Temple trustee and alleged sex assaulter Bill Cosby if he wanted to say a few words. Has Cosby ever declined such an invitation?

Cosby strolled up to the podium wearing his finest Temple sweatsuit and delivered some Cosby wit and wisdom to the graduating class of 2014. He implored them not to be “Houdinis.” He told them that their “curse is coming.” He gave Wikipedia a nice plug. And he finished his notes by reminding the new alumni that algebra is, after all, easier than picking cotton. Or at least less hot.

Cosby’s presence and remarks were not noted in Temple’s written recap of the event, and we couldn’t find the Cos in a single frame of Temple’s graduation highlight video.

Philadelphia magazine was able to view footage of the commencement. Here is the full Bill Cosby Temple graduation speech for 2014:

My mother wanted me to be a postman. I want all of you to understand that as a father of four and a grandfather, the wish that is upon all of you is that you not be Houdinis.

Houdini was a man who was known to be an escape artist, so that getting close to graduating from something, we had daughters who were great Houdinis. They would change their majors. They would change their mind, and so they had to come back in and study again. You can’t do this forever.

But I will tell you to look up some people in the wonderful Wikipedia. Look up Phillis Wheatley. Look up Frederick Douglass. No degrees, no papers. Just self-educated and seekers. Seekers.

I want you to also look up a young man by the name of Samuel Clemens, Mark Twain. Find out about his degrees, find out how he did what he did. And you’ll find that these people stated low, low, low, and they worked their way up, up, up, but enjoying what they were doing.

And when you read their biography, the autobiography, look up Carl Sandburg. And while you read it, before you really get to the end, and you see that Carl Sandburg was honored with three Pulitzer prizes, while you’re reading his life, find that Carl Sandburg, because you can’t.

It is for you that if you change your mind, if you start at the bottom, you make it what you want it to be, and you study it, and you continue to study it, because that will lead you to who you really want to be.

And so today, while some of you are floundering and wondering what you’re going to do, and you’re afraid, and your parents once again are back to scratching your heads wondering how long you’re going to be here — and you can’t use Mother’s Day to show your mother a diploma.

All of this is about who you are now, because your curse is coming. And that curse is one day you will fall in love, and you will marry somebody or you will live with somebody, and you will decide to multiply.

These same people that you wanted to bring in the world so you would have someone to love you will not understand what you’re talking about. They will have friends that say you should have a car now, and you will see yourself looking at yourself but you see a different self than the self that you were.

You see a greedy kid. You see a worthless human being that you’re going to have to carry for the rest of your life.

Go out and start at the bottom and work your way up. You will tell yourself whether this is the career you wanted.

It is, as I have said over and over, those black people in the South picking cotton, 107 degrees Fahrenheit, 90 degrees humidity, who while picking cotton said to themselves, algebra is much easier than this.