Baz Luhrmann to Princeton graduates: ‘Make the world new again’

Film director and producer Baz Luhrmann urged Princeton University graduates today to ignore what society tells them they should do an instead discover and pursue their true talents.

Luhrmann, who directed “Strictly Ballroom,” “Moulin Rouge!” and “The Great Gatsby,” was the speaker for Class Day, a lighthearted ceremony organized by the graduating class that includes student speeches, remarks by the president of the university, and the presentation of awards.

F. Scott Fitzgerald lost himself when he was at Princeton and dropped out. He later found himself again through his writing, Luhrmann recalled, then discussing how he also lost himself when he went off to a prestigious college drama school, where he felt he had to be a “serious” director and actor.

“I lost this thing that I was really good at — the only thing I was really good at,” Luhrmann said, describing  how he used to work in his family gas station pumping gas in Australia when he was only 10 years old. “I was invisible. I’d see every kind of human being — couples breaking up, hari krishnas, bikers, gypsies, the Beatles. I learned to watch and connect. I became absolutely fascinated with people and I learned to like people. I liked to see people, engage and connect. I liked to bring people together to make things. That was my gift. That is what I had,” he said.

“It sounds corny, but I honestly believe every single person has a unique gift, a chemical equation only they have,” he said. “You kind of have to spend your whole life revealing that. I blocked it, like Fitzgerald at Princeton. I was lost and college ended. I’d never been as dark as then in my life. I was sitting on a beach in Australia, and I started to fall back into this thing I do. I went to people I like and connect with, and we started this little theater company.”

The response to a play the group performed at a festival in Czechoslovakia was positive and Luhrmann said he felt like he had found himself again. Then he said he was pulled off track after he received a high-profile opportunity that ended up being a disaster.

“My golden rule — listen to everyone, listen to friends, listen to enemies, but then go into a corner and ask yourself not ‘what do I think’ but ‘what do I actually feel?’,” he said. “That decision will be the right decision.”

Even though it feels like life is written, through DNA and circumstances, Luhrmann said he believes life is a blank page and anything is possible if you reveal who you really are and find your superpower.

“What is the movie of your life? What is your character, what is your script? How will you play out the play of your life?” he said. “How will you own and claim it? What is your contribution?”

When Fitzgerald left Princeton in 1917, the world was experiencing cataclysmic change. “We needed the young to explain the world to everyone else. The world was out of ideas,” Luhrmann said. “I don’t want to scare you, but the world is out of ideas again — exhausted, tired, confused.  It needs you. The world needs you — your truth, your play, your superpower. The world really does need you. So get out there and make the world new again.”_ _ _ _ _

The Princeton University Class of 2017  recognized Luhrmann and the following people as honorary class members during the ceremony:

-Bryant Blount, assistant dean of undergraduate students and a Class of 2008 graduate

-Christopher Eisgruber, president of Princeton University and a Class of 1983 alumnus

– F. Scott Fitzgerald, writer and member of the Class of 1917

-Ann Halliday, associate secretary and special assistant to the president, special assistant to the dean of the college in the Princeton University Office of the Vice President and Secretary, and a Class of 1978 graduate

-David Leach, former senior associate athletic director for campus recreation

-Jeff Nunokawa, professor of English and head of Rockefeller College

-Penna Rose, director of chapel music in the Princeton University Office of the Dean of Religious Life