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Conan O’Brien Advises Students to Navigate Tough Economy by Following Their Passion

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View Conan O'Brien Slideshow | Photos by Erik Jepsen/UC San Diego Publications

RIMAC Arena filled with laughter from thousands of UC San Diego students, staff, faculty and alumni who came together Friday night for a special guest appearance from Conan O’Brien, host of the late-night talk show, “Conan.”

The crowd cheered their host, whose performance helped celebrate Sixth College’s tenth anniversary.

“It’s an honor to meet all of you,” O’Brien said. “I love talking with young people and students; they have great energy and everyone I have met at UC San Diego has been amazing.”

To acknowledge O’Brien’ visit, Sixth College was renamed to “Conan O’Brien College” for the day of his appearance, April 20, 2012. During his performance, O’Brien quipped, “I thought the naming was permanent,” he said. “Everywhere I see ‘Conan O’Brien College,’ it’s written on a dry erase board.”

Prior to O’Brien’s performance, he had a “meet and greet” with about 200 eager fans from Sixth College who all got the opportunity to get their photo taken with O’Brien. The fans included freshman Jenny Li. “It was awesome,” Li said. “I can’t believe I got to meet Conan O’Brien. I was so glad he came to UC San Diego. I watch his TV show every night. I was so excited to hear the news that he was coming to our campus, and it’s so great this is a part of Sixth College’s 10th anniversary.”

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The crowd erupted with laughter throughout O’Brien’s performance, an impressive feat considering it was all improvised. Instead of reading a prepared speech, O’Brien opened the entire performance up to a question and answer session with students.

Some got to share the stage with O’Brien for a few moments, including one student who asked to touch his hair. “It’s soft and really orange,” she said.

O’Brien’s quick wit and self-deprecating humor were in full force throughout the evening. He also offered some advice to students, speaking about his life experiences as a teenager, an undergraduate at Harvard and as a late-night TV talk show host.

In response to one student’s question about how to best approach a job in a tough economy, O’Brien said. “I am fortunate enough to be in my line of work because of a passion I have. I can’t tell my bosses this, but I would be doing what I do for free.”

“My advice is to find out what your passion is and go wherever they’re doing the kind of work you're passionate about... My first job in show business was getting coffee for Estelle Getty of the ‘Golden Girls.’ So, I would say, work hard, don’t have an attitude, prove you have the ability to do what you want to do, and you will climb up the ladder. That is just how it works."

When asked about how the media plays a role in students’ life, O’Brien talked about celebrity culture and how it can be misinterpreted. “Most young people think celebrities have a special place in the world," said O'Brien. “What I have found in performing in front of an audience is that the best thing you can do is to tell the truth. The best way to connect is to let the audience know that you’re insecure and you have problems too.”

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O’Brien spoke candidly about his personal experiences and the successes and disappointments he’s had in his career. O’Brien has firmly established himself as an entertainer in the late night comedy scene. From 1993 to 2009, O’Brien was host of the Emmy award-winning “Late Night” on NBC. After hosting NBC’s “Tonight Show with Conan O’Brien” for seven months, O’Brien had a very public departure from the network in 2010. O’Brien currently hosts “Conan” which airs on TBS and has become a social media maven with millions of followers on Facebook and Twitter.

O’Brien also spoke about how he first broke into the entertainment industry as a writer for “Saturday Night Live” and “The Simpsons.”

“When I became host of “Late Night” in 1993, about 50 things had to go wrong for me to get that job, and then I was in over my head for at least a year,” O’Brien said. “Surviving that year was miraculous.”

O’Brien’s honesty was touching to UC San Diego alumna Christina Cafcules,’07, “I loved it, every minute of it,” Cafcules said. “I have been a fan for so long. I love his sense of humor; he is super talented and so sincere. I just saw the Dali Lama at UC San Diego­­––that was incredible. I think the Dali Lama would approve of the kind of person that Conan is."

Alumna Christine Lym,’08, was also impressed “It was incredible,” she said. “He made everyone feel so comfortable and he is so down-to-earth. I really liked the question and answer session and how the show was not rehearsed. Students could ask whatever they wanted.”

O’Brien said he enjoyed the improvised nature of the evening. “I have given prepared talks at Harvard and Dartmouth, but I really like this set up more. In my business, a mistake can be the best thing that could happen.” He added, “the energy was really great and as you saw tonight, you never knew what was going to happen next.”

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