When Will Ferrell was asked to deliver the commencement address at the University of Southern California in May 2017, for no apparent reason, he ended the speech with a heart-stirring rendition of Whitney Houston’s “I Will Always Love You.” When he stopped by The Graham Norton Show over the weekend, he finally explained his reasoning.
Ferrell — who appeared on the talk show with John Lithgow, Mel Gibson, and Mark Wahlberg — decided he wanted to “inspire” the graduating class, by singing the Houston song to them. “I started thinking, ‘Do I sing a couple of lines or do I torture the students and their parents by singing the entire song?’ and I chose the latter,” he explained. In addition to the song, Ferrell gave the graduating students sound advice: “I just told them to keep your feet firmly planted on the ground and reach for the stars — which I read on the back of a cereal box.”
The decision may have been spawned in part by nerves, after all Ferrell isn’t typically asked to preside over serious situations. “I hadn’t been put in that position before because usually I just make fun of things,” Ferrell said, who graduated from USC in 1990 with a degree in sports information. “A program so difficult, so arduous, that they discontinued the major eight years after I left,” he said during the commencement address where he received an honorary USC doctorate, thus requiring that his wife and children address him as “Dr. Ferrell.” “There will be no exceptions,” he joked, noting, “I think my fellow doctorates would agree, based on our achievements, we are all on equal footing.”