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Preet Bharara’s Awesome Harvard Law Commencement Speech

Mindy Kaling and Preet Bharara at the Harvard Law School commencement (via Kaling’s Twitter feed).

Yesterday my colleague Staci Zaretsky wrote about Mindy Kaling’s hilarious Harvard Law School commencement speech. If you haven’t already read about or heard Kaling’s remarks, which have gone viral, check them out here.

But Kaling’s commencement speech wasn’t the only entertaining one delivered at HLS — or even the best one, in some people’s estimation. Another speaker managed to combine humor and wisdom, in magnificent fashion.

“Yo Mindy, I’m really happy for you, Imma let you finish, but Preet Bharara had one of the best HLS commencement speeches of all time… of all time!”

After yesterday’s story praising Mindy Kaling’s Harvard commencement speech, we heard from some folks who felt that the other Indian-American celebrity speaker — Preet Bharara, U.S. Attorney for the Most Holy Southern District of New York — wasn’t given his due. As one of Time magazine’s 100 most influential people in the world and one of ATL’s finalists for lawyer of the year, Bharara is hardly chopped liver stale papadam. To the contrary, Bharara is — to quote Mindy Kaling’s recent tweet — like “Eliot Ness, but better.”

Bharara displayed a sense of humor about sharing the stage with a Hollywood starlet. From his speech:

A few months ago, my dad calls when he sees the announcement about the Harvard Class Day program and tells me that he and mom would come up for it. I say, “Dad, I am really touched. But you don’t have to drive all the way up from New Jersey. You just had knee surgery; it’s a long haul. Really, Dad, don’t worry about it.”

And so my Dad gets all serious and says to me: “Preet, how could we NOT come? And miss a once-in-lifetime chance — once in LIFETIME chance — to see the Mindy Kaling?”

Yes, the Mindy Kaling — the definite article is what makes the joke. That, and Bharara’s killer Indian accent (click here and go to around the 12:55 mark). Given his acting talent, maybe Bharara should make a guest appearance on The Mindy Project.

That wasn’t the only humorous section of Bharara’s remarks. The jokes came fast and furious here:

Now don’t get me wrong. I love the Mindy Kaling. But I can’t help but feel like Harvard was a bit worried — can Bharara carry the whole program? And, obviously, it determined: No. So, you know, I’m a little hurt.

I mean, two years ago you asked Attorney General Eric Holder to be your Class Day speaker. Apparently, you did not feel the need to also invite Chris Rock. And last year, when you had Jeffrey Toobin, you did not hedge your bets with Jerry Seinfeld.

But it’s okay. I understand. I will just do the best I can.

And his best was excellent — even by Harvard’s high standards. A good commencement speaker should do his research and tailor his remarks to the audience; if the speech could have been delivered anywhere, it displays laziness. Luckily, Bharara attended Harvard College (before going on to Columbia Law, where he delivered the commencement address last year), so coming up with inside jokes wasn’t hard for him:

I have had an unexpectedly productive trip so far. I arrived last evening, stopped by the Business School, dropped off some subpoenas, arrested a couple of guys for insider trading, and finished off the night sipping a scorpion bowl at the Kong.

Ah yes, the Hong Kong Restaurant in Harvard Square. I’m glad to see they still have my favorite crab rangoons on the menu.

But Bharara’s speech wasn’t just jokes. He offered serious and sincere advice to the graduating class about how to be happy lawyers and good lawyers (affiliate links). Using The Departed as a jumping-off point (movie references are a good way to keep restless audiences engaged), Bharara told the grads:

[T]hat is where your focus should be always — being the guy who does his job. Whether you are an associate, a law clerk, an assistant DA, a public defender, or anything else.

Nothing else matters but doing your job and doing it well. Every day. Even when it’s hard. Even when it’s tedious. Even when it’s dull. Even when the work seems small and beneath your brand-name schooling and God-given talent. It means being the guy who does his job, even when no one is looking and no one will know the good ideas came from you.

If you do that, not only the next job, but your career, will take care of itself.

Harvard Law School graduates don’t have too many career worries. But they can definitely use advice about how to be good — especially since, as Mindy Kaling said in her remarks, some HLS grads are evil.

These are just a few highlights from Bharara’s awesome address. You can watch his full remarks via the YouTube embed below (Bharara begins at the 11:20 mark, and Kaling — for anyone who wants to watch her — begins at 1:13:17 mark).

You’ll feel like you’re attending the Harvard Law commencement — and you didn’t have to pay the $150,000 entrance fee. Enjoy!

Harvard Law School Class Day 2014 [YouTube]
Mindy Kaling and Preet Bharara Speak at Law School Class Day [Harvard Crimson]
Comedian’s Harvard Law speech recognizes grads Barack Obama and Elle Woods [ABA Journal]
Preet Bharara: ‘Try to be good’ [Harvard Law Today]

Earlier: Mindy Kaling Reminds Harvard Law Grads That They’re Evil

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