Aaron Sorkin’s Syracuse Commencement Speech: May 13, 2012

In October of 2001 I introduced my son, Dylan to a television show that I had been watching for two years; that show was The West Wing. That show was a very densely-written program about the goings on of the President’s senior staff of the West Wing of the White House. I began watching that show at the very beginning of its run because I had heard that Rob Lowe was going to star in the program. I was something of a fan of Lowe, and thought that it would be interesting to watch.

Sometime after becoming enamored of the program I became aware that the program was written by Aaron Sorkin, who had also written another TV show (that I then began to watch entitled Sports Night) as well as a film I had previously seen (The American President I immediately became a fan of Sorkin, as I loved the way he could dialogue (David Mammet is another writer whose ability to craft masterful dialogue). I began watching Sports Night when I realized that Sorkin was the writer, and was upset when that show ended its run.

Soon after taking up with The West Wing, I began to record episodes as it would turn out, inevitably, someone or something would interrupt me while I would watch it, and I would miss part of the episode. I soon discovered that by recording it, I was not only able to catch every line of each episode, but that I was also able to re-watch each episode at least once more befor the next week’s episode aired. In October of 2001 I introduced Dylan to The West Wing because of the episode, Isaac and Ishmael.

The West Wing goes under lock down as a suspected terrorist is found to be working at the White House. Stuck with a group of high school students who were visiting the White House, the staffers, President Bartlet, and the First Lady all debate the issues regarding terrorism. Meanwhile, Leo sits in on the questioning of the terrorist suspect and learns a lesson about our perceptions of terrorists.

This episode was Sorkin’s response to the 9/11 attacks on the U.S. the month earlier. It was such a powerful episode, and the events of 9/11 were still so fresh in my mind that I felt that watching it would have a profound effect on my then 10-year-old son. So we watched the show that I had already recorded, and I remember stopping the episode frequently so that I could explain things to Dylan. The following week, feeling that he was old enough to watch the program with me, I invited him to do so, and again, I would record show, and stop and explain things to him that I thought might be above his head. Needless to say, watching The West Wing soon became our regular thing, and we would look forward every week to that time when we could sit down and watch the program together.

When it came out on DVD we purchased each season, and would re-watch the show together. Eventually we acquired the entire set of all seven seasons; the last three or four seasons Dylan purchased and gave to me as gifts. When he left for college in 2009, he took the entire set of DVDs with him, and repeatedly watch them while at school. When Dylan turned 18 in 2009, he registered as a Democrat (something which truly surprised me, as I was all but convinced that he was going to do what I did when I turned 18, and register as a Republican; an error in judgement that I had personally corrected in 2009 when I switched parties and became a Democrat after watching Michael Moore‘s Fahrenheit 9/11).

Dylan and I would later go on to talk extensively about The West Wing, how much we both loved the program, and how we so totally wanted to vote for President Bartlet. Dylan admitted that it was his earlier days of watching The West Wing (among other things) that helped convince him to register as a Democrat, and that helped to form the basis of his desire to do public service (as a family we also spent many years working for a number of community organizations and events; which also helped lay the ground work).

This year, just prior to the end of his third year at Syracuse University, a series of events caused Dylan to wind up with his mother’s car about a month or so shy of the end of the school year. This wound up allowing him to stay on campus for an extra few days, and meant that I didn’t have to drive up and pick him up on the Saturday after his classes ended; thus saving me a five-hour, solo drive up to his dorm. Well, as it turns out, Aaron Sorkin was the commencement speaker for the class of 2012, and, upon learning of this, Dylan chose to stay an extra few days to hear his talk. This meant that instead of being home for Mother’s Day, he would be arriving on Mother’s day, later in the evening. Still, this was something that he really wanted to do, and how could we object to that, after all it was Aaron Sorkin (Hey, I almost drove up to hear him speak).

Well, here, in its entirety, is Sorkin’s speech:

For my own part, I too not only learned quite a bit by watching The West Wing, but it also indirectly lead to me acquiring the job I currently now have. I’m the Deputy Registrar of Voters for the City of Norwalk, CT. By changing parties in the Summer of ’04 I became employable by the then Democrat City Clerk to work at the polls (Democrats hire Democrats Republicans hire Republicans so there is a balance of party workers). The City Clerk was a friend of mine, as was the then the Democrat Registrar (for some reason, since moving to the city several years earlier I had become friendly with many of the town’s Democrats). In following years the Democrat Registrar continued to hire me to work in the polls. When she was succeeded by another friend of mine in that position, he wound up hiring me as his Deputy, where I’ve been for the past four years.

Since I have begun working there I have either implemented or help implement a number of changes and improvements to the office that have help streamline the way we run elections as well as saved the City thousands of dollars a year for the cost of running elections. In fact I’ve actually run an election or two. Right now, I’m working on a plan that, if implemented could potentially help save the 169 municipalities in the State of Connecticut about a million dollars a year. Yeah, really, me.

Turns out, Sorkin was right. Decisions are made by those who show up.

“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.”

Margaret Mead

The Perfessor

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