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May 19, 2012 8:20 PM   Subscribe

"Don't ever forget that you're a citizen of this world, and there are things you can do to lift the human spirit, things that are easy, things that are free, things that you can do every day. Civility, respect, kindness, character. You're too good for schadenfreude, you're too good for gossip and snark, you're too good for intolerance—and since you're walking into the middle of a presidential election, it's worth mentioning that you're too good to think people who disagree with you are your enemy.... Don't ever forget that a small group of thoughtful people can change the world. It's the only thing that ever has."
On May 13th, Aaron Sorkin gave the commencement address to the graduating class at Syracuse University, a speech that has been mildly criticized for recycling some lines from his shows West Wing and Sports Night. Video. (Via.)
posted by zarq (50 comments total) 12 users marked this as a favorite

 
"Good artists copy, great artists steal." - gwint
posted by gwint at 8:24 PM on May 19, 2012 [5 favorites]


"Don't ever forget that a small group of thoughtful people can change the world. It's the only thing that ever has."

I think Hitler said that. Did Hitler say that?
posted by docgonzo at 8:25 PM on May 19, 2012 [5 favorites]


Aaron Sorkin fans might be interested to hear about The Newsroom, a new series which will be starting on HBO next month, and which looks to be the kind of wish-fulfillment series that The West Wing was, only this time about journalism. Starring Jeff Daniels, Dev Patel, and Olivia Munn, to mention a few. Trailer.
posted by hippybear at 8:29 PM on May 19, 2012 [8 favorites]


Not just because he used lines from West Wing and Sports Night, but that he'd also used those exact same lines in a previous commencement speech.
posted by tzikeh at 8:29 PM on May 19, 2012 [3 favorites]


Huh. So, I really didn't know what the norms are for commencement-speech-giving. But if I'd had to guess, I would not have guessed that they were expected to be 100% original and different each time. I guess I kind of assumed that the guys who did this stuff frequently just kind of had a schtick worked out, and maybe made a few tweaks and edits each year. That's what I'd do, anyway — which is probably why nobody invites me to give commencement speeches.
posted by nebulawindphone at 8:35 PM on May 19, 2012 [6 favorites]


If he mentioned any graduates named Landingham, Tillinghouse, or a strange female name like Ainsley, you know he's pulling it out of his ass. He does recycle names and some plot threads (having watched The American President on Netflix recently I realized that it's basically The West Wing: The Motion Picture) and it's getting old for those of us who like his writing.

If strange names like these or plotlines about about addiction/recovery and/or a man falling in love with a short blond woman crop up in The Newsroom I'm done with Sorkin.

Walk and talk, by all means, through a wonderfully designed set. BUT SAY SOMETHING NEW DAMMIT.
posted by PapaLobo at 8:37 PM on May 19, 2012 [2 favorites]


"You're too good for schadenfreude, you're too good for gossip and snark ..."

I like to think I'm a decent sort, but I've never claimed to be angelic.

posted by octobersurprise at 8:45 PM on May 19, 2012


I've rejected intolerance since I was a little girl, outgrew gossip as a teenager, and have been trying to ease off the snark as I approach middle age because, no, it's mostly not helpful. However, nobody, but nobody, is too good for a little secret schadenfreude. It's one of life's little compensations for having to deal with dickheads.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 8:57 PM on May 19, 2012 [19 favorites]


"Making the world a better place to be."™
posted by Nomyte at 9:10 PM on May 19, 2012 [1 favorite]


Being on the elevator when somebody shouts, "Hold the door!"
"No!!!"
Schadenfreude!
"Fuck you lady, that's what stairs are for!"
Straight-A students getting Bs!
Exes getting STDs!
Waking doormen from their naps!
Watching tourists reading maps!
Football players getting tackled!
CEOs getting shackled!
Watching actors never reach
The ending of their Oscar speech!
posted by nicebookrack at 9:20 PM on May 19, 2012 [6 favorites]


"...A small group of thoughtful people can change the world..." is Margaret Mead, natch.
posted by blacksmithtb at 9:29 PM on May 19, 2012 [1 favorite]


When you choose a writer who is known for recycling lines, including key lines that he recycled from Sports Night in The West Wing...if you didn't expect this, then the only reasonable conclusion is that you didn't properly research your choice.
posted by cribcage at 9:38 PM on May 19, 2012


Seeing as convocation addresses are, by convention, mostly cobbled together from bits and pieces of other convocation addresses, I don't see why we should fault Sorkin for cobbling something together from higher-grade source material.
posted by bicyclefish at 9:40 PM on May 19, 2012 [1 favorite]


Metafilter: It's one of life's little compensations for having to deal with dickheads.
posted by joe lisboa at 9:44 PM on May 19, 2012 [6 favorites]


If this graduation season ends without Dan Harmon doing a commencement address at some community college somewhere, we can just stop paying attention to them altogether.
posted by oneswellfoop at 9:46 PM on May 19, 2012 [1 favorite]


I see the Community references are here already.
As is fitting.

But what's a showrun...n...er?
(I couldn't help myself.)

I can't see why cribbing lines from scripts he was involved with is a bad thing. Those lines, those thoughts were probably worked over more than any simple speech would be.
posted by Mezentian at 9:51 PM on May 19, 2012


I'm just about to watch the video. i put the over/under on Gilbert and Sullivan references at 1.5....
posted by Shotgun Shakespeare at 10:25 PM on May 19, 2012


Do commencement speeches actually work?
posted by Brocktoon at 10:27 PM on May 19, 2012


"Do commencement speeches actually work?"

No, they're the worst, and I have to give one next week, argh. It's one of my job responsibilities, to speak for the community at our high school graduations, and I do a little ditty based on Dr. Seuss. We rotate around to the different high schools, so mine's always fresh! and new! But this year I'm going to the same place two years in a row and, argh, I am not clever enough to come up with a new graduation speech.

I feel like big famous graduation speeches are trying to give you something inspirational to leave college with, JUST IN CASE you spent four years without getting anything inspirational in the interim. That's probably not really how they ought to go. I'm supposed to speak for the community to the grads, which is a little more directed, and not so much "just give random good advice on how to live life, make sure it's inspirational." But it's all very dull at most of them, people just want to do it and get home. They're not very meaningful ceremonies as they're structured, most of the time.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 10:36 PM on May 19, 2012


There's only so many ways you can turn the idealism, optimism and earnestness to 11, so there's bound to be some repitition. And wouldn't the criticism been less mild if he hadn't done this? It'd be like going to Eagles concert, you're gonna be pissed if they don't do Hotel California.
posted by skewed at 10:53 PM on May 19, 2012


I keep thinking how it's pretty common for artists to paint several versions of the same painting. Each one is unique, sometimes even a masterpiece, but they're the same point of view on the same scene. The owner of one painting might never know the alternate versions exist, until the painter is long dead and there's a retrospective and he goes to a museum and sees something familiar, but it can't be his painting because it's on his wall at home.
posted by charlie don't surf at 11:01 PM on May 19, 2012


The nicest graduation speech I ever saw was at a small high school. Instead of giving advice, the principal read through a list of all the graduates (90 or so?) and said something nice about each one. It was brief, charming and personal.
posted by Snarl Furillo at 11:12 PM on May 19, 2012 [4 favorites]


They're not very meaningful ceremonies as they're structured, most of the time.

That's right. There are a number of common problems with commencement speeches, but none of those problems are that commencement speeches themselves are a bad thing.

Most of the speech problems aren't unique to commencements. For instance, speeches are often too long. This is true of speeches in nearly every context. Ditto with speakers neglecting their audience: Commencement speakers often choose topics that aren't tailored to the occasion, or are at best tangential. Sometimes they will try to shoehorn their pet speech/theme into a commencement context with some throw-away paragraph trying to relate the topic back to the occasion, but that is always transparent.

The problem that is (somewhat) specific to commencements is that you get too many speakers. The invited guest has to speak, obviously. The school's dean also needs to speak. That's two. Then somebody needs to introduce the guest, and somebody needs to introduce the dean. Four. But the dean of the school often isn't the dean of students, and commencement is about the students...so the dean of students speaks, too. He isn't actually a student though, so you need to have a student speak. And since now the students have a representative speaking, there needs to be a faculty member speaking too, to send them off. Seven. Et cetera. Everybody who can, piles on.

A commencement speech can be a really cool opportunity. But bad staging can kill anything, and the way most commencements are staged, they're a drag. Moreover, the most visible problems with the staging tend to concern the speaking elements, and the speeches are a primary component of the ceremonies. So "commencement speeches" as a whole get painted as a major drag.
posted by cribcage at 11:12 PM on May 19, 2012


"Graduates, we live in a world that has jobs, and those jobs have to be filled by graduates with diplomas. Who's gonna do it? You? You, Ms. Weinburg? I have a greater responsibility than you could possibly fathom. You weep for last year's unemployed grads, and you curse the university. You have that luxury. You have the luxury of not knowing what I know. That the bleak future of previous graduating classes, while tragic, probably saved your own careers. And my existence, while grotesque and incomprehensible to you, makes me a lot of money. You don't want the truth because deep down in places you don't talk about at parties, you want me on that wall with the silver screen, you need me on that wall. We use words like contract, performance, residuals. We use these words as the backbone of a life spent making something. You use them as a punchline. I have neither the time nor the inclination to explain myself to a student who rises and sleeps under the roof of the very dorm that I underwrite, and then questions the manner in which I provide it. I would rather you just said thank you, and went on your way, Otherwise, I suggest you pick up a sheepskin, and post an update to Facebook. Either way, I don't give a damn what you think you are entitled to. Good afternoon."
posted by dhartung at 11:34 PM on May 19, 2012 [12 favorites]


Commencement speech full of well worn cliches; film at 11.
posted by His thoughts were red thoughts at 11:37 PM on May 19, 2012


The Valedictorian at my high school gave a talk that started with "This is all BULLSHIT!" then proceeded to attack commencement addresses, the education system, and society in general.

Over thirty years later, I still remember it, so there's a clue for those of you who have to give one.
posted by eye of newt at 11:41 PM on May 19, 2012 [6 favorites]


The Valedictorian at my high school gave a talk that started with "This is all BULLSHIT!"

Kilgore Trout gave yours? Awesome. +1

We just had some human rights legal person whose name I don't even remember.
posted by Mezentian at 11:49 PM on May 19, 2012


"Do commencement speeches actually work?"

No, they're the worst, and I have to give one next week, argh.


No problem, here's how you start: "As I was sitting down to write this speech, I thought, what should I say? I could start by describing..." and then go from there. Everyone will laugh, as if they were right there with you. When they do, you can MeMail me and I will give you my PayPal information so you can send me an appropriate consulting fee.
posted by Dasein at 11:53 PM on May 19, 2012 [4 favorites]


Damned if I went to my commencement speech! I took my diploma and ran.
posted by désoeuvrée at 12:24 AM on May 20, 2012 [1 favorite]


well, i'll tell you

you know where those lines are gonna be a hit, and boy do you know where they aren't

fine speech though
posted by This, of course, alludes to you at 12:50 AM on May 20, 2012


Aaron Sorkin fans might be interested to hear about The Newsroom, a new series which will be starting on HBO next month, and which looks to be the kind of wish-fulfillment series that The West Wing was, only this time about journalism.

That is what Sorkin should've tackled after West Wing: journalism. But he went and made that pretty terrible Sunset Strip show instead. I mean, a deconstruction of (a thinly veiled) Saturday Night Live? Sorkin tried way too hard to wring heavy drama from that setting and it just didn't work; there wasn't enough wiggle room. In a newsroom setting you could go in any direction you wanted. Between fluff like Charlie Wilson's War and The Social Network, Sorkin seems to have lost his mojo.
posted by zardoz at 1:06 AM on May 20, 2012


criticized for recycling some lines

Oh, fer fuck's sake. I know that with some, holding an irrational Sorkin-hate is a point of pride, but calling him out for having the temerity to say the same sentence more than once in his life? I am sure glad that whatever ancient thinkers first said "a healthy mind in a healthy body" or "know thyself" never uttered those words a second time, lest they be thought to be slacking off.
posted by ricochet biscuit at 1:22 AM on May 20, 2012 [1 favorite]


I think Hitler said that. Did Hitler say that?

I think Flapjax
posted by mattoxic at 1:42 AM on May 20, 2012


Do commencement speeches actually work?

In the sense that it's nice work if you can get it, sure.
posted by krinklyfig at 1:47 AM on May 20, 2012


I know that with some, holding an irrational Sorkin-hate is a point of pride, but calling him out for having the temerity to say the same sentence more than once in his life?

It's not irrational to notice that Sorkin has recycled plots and lines of dialogue and punchlines - or to feel like Sports Night, The West Wing, Studio 60 and The Newsroom are all the same show set in different workplaces.

I actually think it's quite lazy for a writer to recycle the way Sorkin does sometimes; no wonder he's a script-writing machine, sometimes all he does is cut-and-paste and global replace characters names.

That said, I like the one show that Sorkin has written over and over and I'm so there for The Newsroom on HBO. But damn, he can't even write something like a commencement speech without stealing from himself?
posted by crossoverman at 3:31 AM on May 20, 2012


Here's my suggestion, Eyebrows McGee: Talk about growing up in New York, and how even though they didn't have much money your aunt and uncle gave you the loving, supportive upbringing any child deserves. Talk about studying science all through school, even at the expense of getting a reputation as a nerd, because you had a passion and you knew it was important. Talk about the life lesson your uncle always imparted through both his words and his deeds, that those with power are obligated to use it responsibly. See who in the audience figures it out before you mention being bitten by that radioactive spider.
posted by Faint of Butt at 4:54 AM on May 20, 2012 [11 favorites]


OK, well, that would just be FUCKING AWESOME.
posted by His thoughts were red thoughts at 5:23 AM on May 20, 2012


I only recall my HS graduation speech because a bunch of the parents booed the student who spoke. It was an election year, and many of us were turning 18. He was talking about our responsibility to vote. This was unacceptable, apparently, because he was the child of a prominent Democrat in the community who had run (and lost) a race for Congress two years before.

Inspirational!
posted by newg at 5:50 AM on May 20, 2012 [1 favorite]


Do commencement speeches actually work?

Sure! The graduating class all end up graduated at the end, right? So it must be working!
posted by nebulawindphone at 6:05 AM on May 20, 2012 [3 favorites]


If he didn't have a character freak out on stage because his father was having a long-term affair and no part of the speech was framed as a letter to a family member about his job, then he wasn't really recycling to the best of his abilities.
posted by Bulgaroktonos at 6:07 AM on May 20, 2012 [3 favorites]


I know that with some, holding an irrational Sorkin-hate is a point of pride

Having recently watched every single episode of Sports Night, I can assure you: it's rational.
posted by two or three cars parked under the stars at 6:29 AM on May 20, 2012


"As I was sitting down to write this speech, I thought, what should I say? I could start by describing..."

Then you've just ripped off every homily I've heard in my life. I swear priests must be taught to start every homily off with an anecdote about what they were doing when the idea of what to say finally came to them.
posted by hoyland at 7:09 AM on May 20, 2012 [1 favorite]


Do commencement speeches actually work?

Taylor Branch spoke at mine--UMBC 1990, GO RETRIEVERS!--and told us of a time he was registering voters in the South. It happened to be in July 1969, at the time Neil and Buzz were cavorting around the moon, and he pointed up and asked an old black women whether she could believe what was happening. Of course not, she told him, it couldn't be true. How could the US government land men on the moon when there was so much inequality and unfairness back at home.* Who would waste time and money like that when there was so much to do back here on earth?

His point? After you graduate, do what you do, and do it well, but make sure that it matters. Make sure it benefits real people.

So, yeah, despite a bunch of smuggled National Bohemians (GO NATTY BO!), I still remember my commencement. And as a writer-cum-teacher, I've tried to follow Mr. Branch's advice.

*How much was cribbed from this, I really don't know. But yeah, good artists copy, great artists steal.
posted by John of Michigan at 9:32 AM on May 20, 2012 [1 favorite]


I'm giving a college commencement speech today. Sorkin's was one of many I looked to for inspiration. But it really rubbed me the wrong way, partly because, like ricochet biscuit, I've never liked the guy. Partly because the egotism crossed over into the red zone.

For a graduation event, things should be focused on the graduates. That's my way of thinking.
posted by doctornemo at 9:49 AM on May 20, 2012


I would be pissed knowing this thing standing in between me and brunch was something I could or HAVE queued up on Netflix. The most important thing to remember when writing a commencement speech is to keep in mind you're keeping these good people from brunch and in some cases mimosas. It had better be good.
posted by bleep at 10:12 AM on May 20, 2012


He kept it reasonably short, paid homage to the parents, and wasn't horribly boring. Better than many commencement speeches. Why the hate for Sports Night, two or three cars parked under the stars?
posted by theora55 at 10:55 AM on May 20, 2012


Wonderella responds.
posted by Evilspork at 11:07 AM on May 20, 2012


Eyebrows, here's what I recommend: Tell them it's your job as commencement speaker to give them advice on what comes next, but that it's a nearly impossible task, because everybody needs different advice, so commencement speakers rely on platitudes. A platitude is a trite, meaningless, biased, or prosaic statement, often presented as if it were significant and original. The word derives from plat, the French word for "flat." Whether any given statement is considered to have meaning is highly subjective, so platitude is often—but not always—used as a pejorative term to describe seemingly profound statements that a certain person views as unoriginal or shallow. Then launch into a lengthy list of platitudes. Sneak in a few bogus ones for fun.

http://www.reference.com/motif/language/list-of-platitudes
http://www.brainyquote.com/quotes/keywords/platitudes.html
http://quotes.yourdictionary.com/platitudes
http://www.cloverquotes.com/show/Platitudes/quotes
posted by theora55 at 11:33 AM on May 20, 2012


When you choose a writer who is known for recycling lines, including key lines that he recycled from Sports Night in The West Wing...if you didn't expect this, then the only reasonable conclusion is that you didn't properly research your choice.

Exactly. I love that Sorkin does this; to me it always feels like an insider thing for the people who have been Sorkin fans since Sports Night, through TWW and onto Studio 60. I am 100% confident Newsroom will recycle old cast members, have a disproportionate number of redheaded women, resurrect the personification of at least one ex-girlfriend, and shamelessly recycled old lines delivered whilst stalking down hallways at speed. I mean hell, the trailer resurrects at least one line out of TWW, and this brings joy to my heart.

Being fed up with Sorkin for doing Sorkin is like wishing John Irving would give it a rest with New England, wrestling and the fucking bears already.
posted by DarlingBri at 1:52 AM on May 21, 2012 [2 favorites]


whilst walking down hallways at speed

Am I the only one who noticed that Cabin In The Woods began with Bradley Whitford in a pediconference?
posted by ricochet biscuit at 10:13 AM on May 21, 2012 [2 favorites]


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