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`Reality Matters’, Director Christopher Nolan Tells Princeton University Graduates

Nolan
Nolan

British writer and director Christopher Nolan called on Princeton University graduates today to chase their realities in order to make the world a better place and solve global problems.

“There is an enormous amount of work to be done in the world,” Nolan said. “Generally in graduation speeches, what happens is you are told you need to chase your dreams. I want you to chase your realities, not at expense of dreams, but as a foundation of your dreams.”

He told students to take everything they have learned and accomplished over the last four years and do everything they can with it to improve the world.

“Improve reality. Look at fundamentals, what we are really doing. How can we move the ball forward?” he said. “You have limitless potential.”

Nolan visited Princeton as the 2015 Class Day keynote speaker. Class Day, which takes place the day before Princeton’s Commencement, is a cheerful celebration organized by members of the graduating class. In addition to the keynote address, the ceremony includes remarks by class members, the induction of honorary class members and the recognition of class members for their contributions.

For the first time in the school’s history, the celebration took place in the Princeton University Chapel because of the weather. Nolan marveled at the beauty of the chapel, the campus, and the town of Princeton.

“This is my first time in Princeton. I walked around to look at the place, the town. To call Princeton picturesque is to pay a compliment to pictures,” he said.

“Even your trash is more beautiful,” he said of some antique items he saw put on the curb for trash collection.

He then reflected on the importance of his own college experience, and said when he graduated he felt he had accumulated “a whole wheel of brie” when it came to knowledge.

“Actually it was more like swiss cheese,” he said. “There were gaps, gaps I didn’t know I had, that I had to fill with experience. Some of it was marvelous, some of it was terrible. What you have achieved here will help get you through it.”

Since college, Nolan said he has learned the value of learning much better than when he was in school.

“Carry on learning,” he said. “Some of the gaps you will fill with the most precious things of all — new things, new ideas.”

He lamented the problems the world still faces, from racism to income inequality to war, and said his generation believed that improving communication would solve many of the world’s problems.

“The truth is, we failed to address a lot of the fundamentals,” he said. ” We went out into the world thinking if we could connect, all talk these problems would go away. Unfortunately by now we have to acknowledge we were wrong. Communication is not everything. So many of our resources have gone into communications infrastructure and achieved wonderful things, but not as wonderful as it could be.”

He gave an example of ignoring reality, recalling a flight from California to the East Coast. When the plane flew over the Grand Canyon, none of the other passengers were looking out the window because they were looking at their screens. He called it an insult to reality.

“Respect reality, ” he said. “Over the last couple of decades, we’ve started to view reality as a poor cousin to dreams…(but) virtual realities are abstractions that are subsets of reality.”

“Objectively matters,” he said. “We live in the real world. We deal in the real world. What I’m saying about communications is, it is time for reframing…We can change the world in all kinds of incredible ways.”

On a lighter note, Nolan, creator of the Dark Knight Trilogy superhero film series, joked with Princeton University President Christopher Eisgruber about whether Batman graduated from Princeton. Eisgruber said school officials researched Batman’s history and proved that Batman went to Princeton, and Not Yale as the Ivy League rival claims.

But Nolan said Eisgruber did not point out the most important thing about Bruce Wayne.

“He attend Princeton, but he didn’t graduate,” Nolan said. “And so as of tomorrow, you are already better than Batman.”

Krystal Knapp

Krystal Knapp is the founding editor of Planet Princeton. She can be reached via email at editor AT planetprinceton.com. Send all letters to the editor and press releases to that email address.

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