When he’s not playing punk rock, Holland — who earned a PhD in molecular biology from USC five years ago — the frontman has devoted himself to HIV research. Addressing his fellow graduates in the speech, Holland praised them for their commitment to science while offering some backstory on how art and science have coexisted in his life.
“My story has had both a musical side and a scientific side,” Holland said in the speech. “I had these two great loves, how would I decide? Well as foolish as it sounds I decided to pursue both. I believe that there’s an intersection between art and science. And that even in our scientific field we draw upon our creativity.”
In fact, The Offspring’s iconic song “Come Out and Play” was inspired by Holland’s lab work at USC many years ago. “You gotta keep ’em separated”: as in, when cooling down Erlenmeyer flasks, you gotta keep ’em apart.
“I’m hoping that USC doesn’t come after me for ownership of that song,” he remarked in a separate interview with VICE, noting that USC can technically claim rights to graduate students’ intellectual property.
Returning to the speech, Holland explained that his medical path wasn’t linear, as he paused his academic studies for rock stardom. But eventually he came back to finish what he started. The singer also celebrated the studiousness of the graduating class for having to navigate their own inherently non-linear path, set in motion by the COVID-19 pandemic.
“You did it, and no other class ever had to do that,” Holland said. “And you did it at a time when many people have lost their faith in science, and trust in the scientific community as a whole has been challenged.”
He added, “Your perseverance is what has brought you here today… It’s not the end of your learning, but a marker of the sacrifice and commitment to the continued pursuit of the truth. Today we will celebrate what generations will remember as the class that did the impossible.”
Below you can view Dexter Holland’s commencement speech, which begins at the 42-minute mark.