Mindy Kaling took the podium at Harvard Law School's commencement ceremony on Wednesday to receive her honorary legal degree — or so she thought.
"Graduates, parents, faculty, this is really such a remarkable day — obviously for you, but also for me, because after spending a life obsessing over true crime, the impossible happened: I was asked to speak at the Harvard Law commencement and accept an honorary legal degree. Yes. Isn't that the American dream?" she told the class of graduates and their guests, only to be interrupted by a man offstage. With a frown, she returned to the microphone. "So apparently, there's a little miscommunication. I am no longer Mindy Kaling, Esquire, Attorney at Law, comedian, actress. That's cool. I'm just supposed to stand up here, give funny remarks and sit down."
Throughout the speech, Kaling touted many lines that might as well been scripted into an episode of 'The Mindy Project,' as said by her character, Mindy Lahiri. "I know what you're probably thinking: Mindy Kaling? Why did they ask her? She's just a pretty Hollywood starlet? What does that quadruple threat know about the law? Sure, she seems really down-to-earth, and pretty but in a totally accessible way, and yeah, she was on People magazine's Most Beautiful list this year and also in 2008, but what intelligent remarks could she possibly make about the law? She's probably too busy doing shampoo commercials!" she joked. "But I'm not too busy. In fact, I would kill to do a shampoo commercial, so if anyone from L'Oreal is out there, please Snapchat me after this!"
After joking that she knows a lot about the law ("because I sue everybody!") and that a burger is named after her at Harvard's Mr. Bartley's — where she's in good company on the menu, alongside "noted chef Guy Fieri and noted drunk driver Justin Bieber — she delved into the story of her own education at Dartmouth College. Kaling noted that the campus is located in "lawless, rural New Hampshire, where, when you arrive, you are given a flask of moonshine and a box of fireworks and you are told simply to, quote, go to town — except there is no town, there is only a forest and a row of fraternity houses that smell like urine." She added that her college actually does have a law program, but "it's just one semester and its coursework is entirely centered on how to beat a DUI."
The actress then joked that she tried many shortcuts to putting together her speech, "the way that any good Dartmouth-educated graduate would — I drank a 40 of Jaegermeister, then I called my dad to see if he could get me out of it ... so I tried to hire a college freshmen to write it for me." Yet finally, she said, "I rolled up my sleeves, sat down at my computer, and tried to buy a speech off movingcommencementspeeches.com. My credit card was declined, so I had to write the thing myself, and here we are today."
After a thorough compliment for her fellow speaker, U.S. attorney for the southern district of New York, Preet Bharara, she laughed. "Clearly, Harvard wanted you to see the full range of what India can produce here! Mr. Bharara fights finance criminals and terrorism. I meet handsome men in cute and unusual ways on television. And next season, my character might get a pet puppy! So is one more important than the other? Who can say?" Besides plugging her Fox sitcom, she made sure to also mention her book, "Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me? (and Other Concerns)": "You can buy it right around the corner at Urban Outfitters, next to a book called 'The Marijuana Chef's Cookbook.'"
Kaling then shifted her focus to the graduating class. "Most of you will go on to the noblest pursuits, like helping a cable company acquire a telecom company. You will defend B.P. from birds. You will spend hours arguing that the well water was contaminated well before the fracking occurred. One of you will sort out the details of my prenup, a dozen of you will help with my acrimonious divorce, and one of you will fall in love in the process — I'm talking to you, Noah Feldman!" she said, referring to the noted professor, and later making fun of the graduates of Harvard's other schools, and the university's crest, which is "three bunches of asparagus — the tallest and proudest of vegetables, the pillars of the vegetable kingdom."
She also highlighted some well-known Harvard Law alumni, including President Barack Obama — "or so he says!" — and Elle Woods, the Reese Witherspoon character from what she joked was a "documentary," "Legally Blonde." And though Harvard has a long-standing law-school rivalry with Yale (and sometimes Stanford), she reassured, "From where I stand, from an outside perspective, here's the truth — you are all nerds ... you are the nerds who are going to make serious bank. Which is why I'm here today, to marry the best-looking one of you." But still, Kaling highlighted that a Harvard law degree will follow the graduates into the headlines, in case they ever get involved in a crime or need to appear more like a "regular person ... Mitt Romney preferred to be known as a Mormon guy to distract people from his Harvard past!"
Kaling then shared the heartwarming story of her family's immigration to America. "Their romance with this country is more romantic than any romantic comedy that I could ever write … and that fairness (of America) that my family and I have come to take for granted, and all Americans take for granted, is, in many ways, resting on your shoulders."
She didn't have many wise words to offer the graduating class — "Celebrities give too much advice, and people listen to it too much; in Hollywood, we all think we're these wise advice givers, and most of us have no education whatsoever," she said, noting that actors still often become nutritionists, environmental policy experts, governors and pundits without question. After playing a gynecologist on television for two years, she said, "Damned if I don't think I can deliver a baby!"
Then, she simply advised, "Please just try to be the kind of people who give advice to celebrities, not the other way around." Especially since lawyers have a way with words in order to maintain justice, such as the contracts, terms and conditions she reads while watching "Real Housewives" and downloading Candy Crush updates: "iTunes may own my ovaries for all I know. ... You take words and you turn them into the infrastructure that keeps our world stable."
She closed by predicting their bright futures. "A lot of you will become the quiet heroes of our country — however, those of you who go on to work for Big Pharma or Philip Morris, you will be the loud antiheroes, and someone is certain to make an AMC series glamorizing you, so congratulations. But basically, either way, you can't go wrong."