Aaron Sorkin is a highly acclaimed an awarded screenwriter known for The West Wing, The Social Network, and the Steve Jobs movie that didn’t star Ashton Kutcher. But my piece of his is the one he delivered at the Syracuse graduation ceremony in 2012.
Let me break down why this gets me deep.
The brutally honest parts:
First he tells the kids how their parents are here incredibly proud but they really can’t believe their kids are getting any kind of degree today. LMAO.
I don’t even remember who gave the graduation speech when I got my degree from The University of Texas at Austin, or what it was about. All I remember is I’d just got LASIK and my friend Jana was scared I wouldn’t make it across the stage. I had to wear sunglasses – not to be cool but to see, but I was hoping people wouldn’t think it was because I was trying to be cool. But Aaron Sorkin tells the kids that screw-ups are headed their way, and a lot of them. And tells them it’s a combination of life being unpredictable and them being “super dumb”. LMAO SO BAD. Yet true. It never serves us well to assume we know what we are doing.
He said growing up we see things in milestone terms. I know I thought all kinds of great things would happen to me when I got my driver’s license. The irony? I’m a total homebody at heart. What was I thinking? It was like my first job in the mall. I got my first paycheck and realized it’d buy me one pair of Nikes. Awesome. After all that clock-watching, which I considered hard work, and agonizing over the minutes ticking by so slowly, this is my reward? I think that was truly my first existential crisis.
The part Sorkin said that stuck with me then and now? I knew then I’d have to be better than everyone else. He tells the crowd: “… 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.” Can I just say knowing this then and knowing this now are both the same and different? I’ve blocked out my first months in sales wondering WTF I was doing, but also having enough confidence to trust I’d at least kick a few asses. But to be damn good? I must say, it was focusing on my own goals, never being jealous of anyone b/c I didn’t have the time to ever, because I was only competing with myself. That remains the same to this day. So Aaron, you were damn right.
The self-deprecating parts:
He tells the parents that he realizes he’s the last person their kid is going to hear speaking before they literally leave campus. And he’s terrified. And then he tells the parents they should be terrified. LMAO.
Then you think “there’s no way he can next level THAT. And then he proceeds to tell the parents that it doesn’t matter how many degrees they get put in their hand, their kids will always be dumber than they are. LMAO SO BAD.
What I wish he said to me at that age:
“You’ll meet a lot of people who, to put it simply, don’t know what they’re talking about. In 1970 a CBS executive famously said that there were four things that we would never, ever see on television: a divorced person, a Jewish person, a person living in New York City and a man with a moustache. By 1980, every show on television was about a divorced Jew who lives in New York City and goes on a blind date with Tom Selleck.”
I’ll never forget walking into the most gigantic, intimidating conference room ever; bigger than the ones you see in movies where the married couple hates each other and eats their dinner in silence at opposite ends of the table. As I sat at the gargantuan table it began to dawn on me, very slowly, that everyone at the table in a suit was dumber than shit. I realized this because I knew I was dumb as shit. But I didn’t expect them to be.
And this was just the start: you’ll get clients you admire so much, and then throw you for a loop when their real character comes out. You’ll get employees you believed in so much that will break your heart. No one can prepare you for this, but Mr. Sorkin gives you a heads-up. My dad shared an almost identical piece of advice, but it’s just not the same when it’s your dad, you know?
Ok, I admit it. This was my third viewing and I cried. So much so that I can’t give my own recap. Aaron Sorkin describes that feeling of what keeps you going when all strikes are against you better than anyone I know, and I’ve read a shit-ton. All I do is read. He said, “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.”
Today, June 14, 2018 is the day I realized this is the high I chase as a owner of this Austin ad agency and maybe it’s like the high heroin users chase. Maybe it’s totally stupid. But it is that moment when it all comes together; it feels miraculous and you want to feel it again… and again. I don’t think I’ll ever stop chasing that high, and, honestly, I don’t want to. Because then I’d have to find another high and I bet it won’t be that healthy.