Commencement Address

It’s not done to link to something without comment, but John Rentoul has highlighted Aaron Sorkin’s speech to Syracuse University graduands, which is too full of energy and hope not to share. These are the passages that make it for me.

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?’

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.

I’ve made some bad decisions.  I lost a decade of my life to cocaine addiction.  You know how I got addicted to cocaine?  I tried it.  The problem with drugs is that they work, right up until the moment that they decimate your life.  Try cocaine, and you’ll become addicted to it.  Become addicted to cocaine, and you will either be dead, or you will wish you were dead, but it will only be one or the other.  My big fear was that I wasn’t going to be able to write without it.  There was no way I was going to be able to write without it.  Last year I celebrated my 11-year anniversary of not using coke.  (applause) Thank you.  In that 11 years, I’ve written three television series, three movies, a Broadway play, won the Academy Award and taught my daughter all the lyrics to ‘Pirates of Penzance.’  I have good friends.

Today is May 13th and today you graduate and the rules are about to change, and one of them is this: Decisions are made by those who show up. Don’t ever forget that you’re a citizen of this world.

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. Unless they went to Georgetown, in which case, they can go to hell.  (Laughter)

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

Rehearsal’s over. You’re going out there now, you’re going to do this thing. How you live matters. You’re going to fall down, but the world doesn’t care how many times you fall down, as long as it’s one fewer than the number of times you get back up.

For the class of 2012, I wish you joy. I wish you health and happiness and success, I wish you a roof, four walls, a floor and someone in your life that you care about more than you care about yourself. Someone who makes you start saying ‘we’ where before you used to say ‘I’ and ‘us’ where you used to say ‘me.’ I wish you the quality of friends I have and the quality of colleagues I work with.  Baseball players say they don’t have to look to see if they hit a home run, they can feel it. So I wish for you a moment—a moment soon—when you really put the bat on the ball, when you really get a hold of one and drive it into the upper deck, when you feel it. When you aim high and hit your target, when just for a moment all else disappears, and you soar with wings as eagles. The moment will end as quickly as it came, and so you’ll have to have it back, and so you’ll get it back no matter what the obstacles.  A lofty prediction, to be sure, but I flat out guarantee it.

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