Commencement 2012 : Sorkin to speak at commencement Sunday
A year after graduation, Timothy Davis-Reed received a call from his former roommate Aaron Sorkin, who asked him to take a look at a draft of his first play. They sat down on the floor of Sorkin’s sublet apartment in New York City as the last page was ripped from the typewriter and passed from the hands of one friend to the next.
At the time, the two friends had no idea what was in store for Sorkin’s career as a writer. They could not predict the Emmys, Oscars and Golden Globes that would mark his success – all of which began at Syracuse University.
Sorkin will return to his alma mater May 13 to deliver the commencement speech at this year’s graduation ceremony in the Carrier Dome. The screenwriter graduated with a Bachelor of Fine Arts in musical theater from Syracuse University in 1983, and despite his fame, he still remains heavily involved with the university, especially the College of Visual and Performing Arts.
Davis-Reed, currently an assistant professor of practice in the drama department at SU, described Sorkin as a smart, confident and clever man.
While living and writing in New York City, Davis-Reed recalled that Sorkin wanted to become a part of a group of playwrights called the Dramatists and applied for membership after completing his first play.
The application asked for the submission of two plays, and Sorkin only had one. But he was able to find a loophole in the application: nowhere did it state that he had to have written both plays. So Sorkin submitted his own play and one of his favorites, ‘Death of a Salesman.’
‘They sent him back a very nice letter saying, ‘That’s very nice, Mr. Sorkin. You’re very clever, but we’ll be happy to consider you once you’ve written a second play,” Davis-Reed said.
Sorkin is now famous for writing the scripts for major films and television series such as ‘The Social Network,’ ‘A Few Good Men,’ ‘The American President’ and ‘The West Wing.’ He is most recently working on a new HBO series called ‘The Newsroom.’
Since 1984, students from the S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications have traveled to Los Angeles, where Sorkin would often speak, on trips to learn about the screenwriting industry.
And as graduates of VPA, Sorkin and fellow screenwriter Rob Edwards decided to create a similar program for students in VPA, Davis-Reed said. The trip, known as the Sorkin in LA Learning Practicum, brings 14 students, 12 performance majors and two film majors out to LA during Spring Break to explore the entertainment industry.
‘It came about because Aaron Sorkin, who lives here, was actually a musical theatre major when he was in school, and I think his goal was to make the students on campus aware of what Los Angeles has to offer,’ said Joan Adler, assistant vice president of regional programs for SU in LA.
Adler said many students in the drama department think of New York City as their sole option after graduation, and so LA is often overlooked. She said one of the goals of the immersion program is to expose the students to job opportunities in LA.
During the week, students go to the theatre, network and participate in table reads and casting calls, Adler said.
Not only does Sorkin fund the trip, but he also meets with the students. In past years, he has given the students tours of his home and office, Adler said. Though the level of his involvement varies depending on his workload, Adler said he is always involved.
‘It’s a wonderful thing that we’re not only bringing out the current students, but we’re having the alums that are following the same path that these students want to follow,’ she said.
Despite the success Sorkin has had, it didn’t always come easily. Sorkin failed an introductory course required for his major taught by Geri Clark, a professor in the drama department who taught Sorkin during his time at SU.
He had to repeat the course.
‘He failed my intro class the first year because he didn’t attend very much,’ she said. ‘I told him to come back next time and pay attention. It was very hard on him, but he did. He was an excellent student. He was a good actor.’
Clark said she finds Sorkin’s continued involvement with the university rare for someone who has achieved such success.
‘I think that it’s unusual for somebody like him to stay as closely in touch with his home college as he has,’ she said. ‘It’s important to him to know that there are people here who liked him and appreciated him before he became Aaron Sorkin.’
Clark described Sorkin as well-liked and funny with an ‘acerbic wit.’ Though he failed Clark’s introductory course, he later went on to win the Sawyer Falk Award, which Clark said is a great honor within the department.
Said Clark: ‘As somebody who remembers what it was like when he was here to have hopes, dreams, expectations and wonder how you were going to fulfill them, I can’t imagine anybody who would be better suited to serve as commencement speaker.’
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