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Aaron Sorkin’s Regurgitated Syracuse Commencement Address

SYRACUSE, NY - MAY 13: Aaron Sorkin, screenwriter, producer and playwright, gestures during his address at the 2012 Syracuse University Commencement at Syracuse University on May 13, 2012 at the Carrier Dome in Syracuse, New York. (Photo by Nate Shron/Getty Images)
Aaron Sorkin telling one group of Syracuse Oranges a story he’d already told another. (Nate Shron/Getty Images) Photo: Nate Shron

On Sunday, Academy Award–winning screenwriter, producer, and preeminent tech-mogul biopic scribe Aaron Sorkin returned to his alma mater, Syracuse University, to deliver the commencement address.  While not rambunctiously well-received, it merited some good-hearted applause at Sorkin’s admission that he’s eleven years cocaine-free. The speech was rather good, all things considered — equal parts anecdotal (Arthur Miller made an appearance) and motivational (like when he called the graduates “super dumb”) — yet something didn’t sit right with Chelsea DeBaise, assistant features editor at the Daily Orange, Syracuse’s independent student newspaper. In an article published the next day, she opened with Sorkin’s closing line: “And my friends, you ain’t seen nothin’ yet.” 

It was the exact same line he ended his speech with when he spoke at a convocation at Syracuse University’s College of Visual and Performing Arts in 1997, according to a transcript of the 1997 speech obtained by The Daily Orange.

In all, DeBaise found at least six other instances of almost “word for word” crossovers.

There’s the anecdote about the husband who only told his wife he loved her on their wedding day, because why repeat what’s still true? (A metaphor for Sorkin’s continuing respect for his Syracuse education.) Then there’s the story of the Syracuse alum he met while wearing a moose costume and handing out leaflets at a New York City mall. And the reference to Sorkin’s late college roommate Chris, a victim of the AIDS epidemic, who Sorkin says was “born out of his time and would have felt most at home playing Mickey Rooney’s sidekick in Babes on Broadway.” Each of these tales from the 1997 speech was repeated almost verbatim on Sunday.

But the Social Network writer wasn’t just repackaging his past speeches — he also threw in some lines from his past TV projects.

When describing a young right-out-of-school actor who turned down a role in A Few Good Men for the lead in a failed Milos Forman film, Sorkin said, “sometimes, just when you think you’ve finally got the ball safely in the end zone, you’re back to delivering pizzas for Domino’s. Welcome to the NFL.” That last bit appeared in the first season of The West Wing, which Sorkin wrote. (Sorkin claimed in 1997 and on Sunday that he didn’t remember the actor’s name, but David Haglund over at Slate thinks it’s Nip/Tuck’s Dylan Walsh, who’s obviously not doing all that badly.) 

One of Sorkin’s more inspiring lines on Sunday — “Don’t ever forget that a small group of thoughtful people can change the world. It’s the only thing that ever has.” — came from a Margaret Mead quote and also made an appearance in The West Wing. So did this line: “Decisions are made by those who show up.” As you may have guessed, it made cameos in both the 1997 and 2012 speeches.

Not that we fault Sorkin for sticking to his audience-tested script. After all, as a Syracuse professor of rhetorical studies told the Daily Orange, politicians do it all the time. 

Aaron Sorkin’s Regurgitated Commencement Speech