Writer for stage and screen Aaron Sorkin spoke at Syracuse University's 158th Commencement yesterday; read a transcript from his speech below!
Thank you very much. Madam Chancellor, members of the Board of Trustees, members of the faculty and administration, parents and friends, honored guests and graduates, thank you for inviting me to speak today at this magnificent Commencement ceremony.
There's a story about a man and a woman who have been married for 40 years. One evening at dinner the woman turns to her husband and says, "You know, 40 years ago on our wedding day you told me that you loved me and you haven't said those words since." They sit in silence for a long moment before the husband says "If I change my mind, I'll let you know."
Well, it's been a long time since I sat where you sit, and I can remember looking up at my teachers with great admiration, with fondness, with gratitude and with love. Some of the teachers who were there that day are here this day and I wanted to let them know that I haven't changed my mind.
There's another story. Two newborn babies are lying side by side in the hospital and they glance at each other. Ninety years later, through a remarkable coincidence, the two are back in the same hospital lying side by side in the same hospital room. They look at each other and one of them says, "So what'd you think?"
It's going to be a very long time before you have to answer that question, but time shifts gears right now and starts to gain speed. Just ask your parents whose heads, I promise you, are exploding right now. They think they took you home from the maternity ward last month. They think you learned how to walk last week. They don't understand how you could possibly be getting a degree in something today. They listened to "Cat's in the Cradle" the whole car ride here.
I'd like to say to the parents that I realized something while I was writing this speech: the last teacher your kids will have in college will be me. And that thought scared the hell out of me. Frankly, you should feel exactly the same way. But I am the father of an 11-year-old daughter, so I do know how proud you are today, how proud your daughters and your sons make you every day, and that they did just learn how to walk last week, that you'll never not be there for them, that you love them more than they'll ever know and that it doesn’t matter how many degrees get put in their hand, they will always be dumber than you are.
And make no mistake about it, you are dumb. You're a group of incredibly well-educated dumb people. I was there. We all were there. You're barely functional. There are some screw-ups headed your way. I wish I could tell you that there was a trick to avoiding the screw-ups, but the screw-ups, they're a-coming for ya. It's a combination of life being unpredictable, and you being super dumb.
Today is May 13th and today you graduate. Growing up, I looked at my future as a timeline of graduations in which every few years, I'd be given more freedom and reward as I passed each milestone of childhood. When I get my driver's license, my life will be like this; when I'm a senior, my life will be like that; when I go off to college, my life will be like this; when I move out of the dorms, my life will be like that; and then finally, graduation. And on graduation day, I had only one goal left, and that was to be part of professional theater. We have this in common, you and I—we want to be able to earn a living doing what we love. Whether you're a writer, mathematician, engineer, architect, butcher, baker or candlestick maker, you want an invitation to the show.
Today is May 13th, and today you graduate, and today you already know what I know: to get where you're going, you have to be good, and to be good where you're going, you have to be damned good. Every once in a while, you'll succeed. Most of the time you'll fail, and most of the time the circumstances will be well beyond your control.
When we were casting my first movie, "A Few Good Men," we saw an actor just 10 months removed from the theater training program at UCLA. We liked him very much and we cast him in a small, but featured role as an endearingly dimwitted Marine corporal. The actor had been working as a Domino's Pizza delivery boy for 10 months, so the news that he'd just landed his first professional job and that it was in a new movie that Rob Reiner was directing, starring Tom Cruise and Jack Nicholson, was met with happiness. But as is often the case in show business, success begets success before you've even done anything, and a week later the actor's agent called. The actor had been offered the lead role in a new, as-yet-untitled Milos Forman film. He was beside himself. He felt loyalty to the first offer, but Forman after all was offering him the lead. We said we understood, no problem, good luck, we'll go with our second choice. Which, we did. And two weeks later, the Milos Forman film was scrapped. Our second choice, who was also making his professional debut, was an actor named Noah Wyle. Noah would go on to become one of the stars of the television series "ER" and hasn't stopped working since. I don't know what the first actor is doing, and I can't remember his name. Sometimes, just when you think you have the ball safely in the end zone, you're back to delivering pizzas for Domino's. Welcome to the NFL.