Aaron Sorkin was recently caught “borrowing” his 2012 Syracuse University commencement speech from a very well-regarded source–himself. It turns out that much of what he says comes directly from a convocation he gave in 1997 at the very same school. In their coverage Slate calls this recycling, but it seems to me that the more apt metaphor would be the rerun, especially since the speech also borrows from Sorkin’s TV shows, including The West Wing and Sports Night.
I’m torn about how I feel about this. Anyone who speaks to an audience reuses their best material, but it seems to me that an audience at an event like a commencement speech expects an original, inspirational performance, not something that has been re-purposed from elsewhere. It’s a little like making the same remarks at two different funerals. They might be nice words, but they lose their impact when you know they’ve been used elsewhere.
Of course all of this would have been much easier in the era before we all carried around video cameras in our phones and everything was available for study on YouTube. Then all of the Syracuse grads could have enjoyed the speech without having known they were watching a rerun.