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At Class Day, Baz Luhrmann urges graduates to follow in F. Scott Fitzgerald's footsteps

Class Day speakers remarked on the parallels between classes and their graduates 100 years apart, with respect to the Classes of 1917 and 2017, and particularly on the legacy of a student who didn't even graduate: F. Scott Fitzgerald. 

At the beginning of the ceremony, University President Christopher Eisgruber '83 reflected on the connections between the time Fitzgerald, Class of 1917, spent at the University and the achievements of the Class of 2017. The Class of 2017 had previously selected director Baz Luhrmann, best known for his film adaptation of Fitzgerald's novel "The Great Gatsby," as its Class Day speaker. 


Eisgruber provided a number of parallels, even providing a video of himself portraying Fitzgerald as a University student. He narrated one particularly poignant example regarding the University football team, describing how Fitzgerald would often call the football coach with suggestions for plays and strategies. Eisgruber pointed out that a particular play, one which involved having separate offensive and defensive sections of the team, was employed for the first time in 2017 by Head Coach Bob Surace '90.

“Coincidence? I think not,” said Eisgruber.

Following Eisgruber, Dean of Undergraduate Students Kathleen Deignan presented the class prizes. Maddie Meyers ’17 delivered the first set of student remarks, followed by the awarding of the Priscilla Glickman ’92 Memorial Prize and the presentation of athletic awards. After additional student remarks by Sukrit Puri ’17, the class council inducted four honorary class members into the graduating class. Eisgruber was also given a surprise induction as an honorary member.

Following the awards ceremony, Luhrmann began the keynote address. He began by directing the camera to zoom in on audience members, pointing out their hair and expressions before shouting “action,” and beginning his speech.

He explained that he was first exposed to the film industry when working as an unpaid intern at his father’s movie theater in Australia. When he was older, he involved himself in various productions in both film and theater, and attended the National Institute of Dramatic Art. He directed a number of successful films in addition to "The Great Gatsby," notably "Romeo + Juliet" and "Moulin Rouge!"

Luhrmann narrated several events in Fitzgerald's life, in the hopes of prompting the audience to think about how Fitzgerald "found himself." He explained that he and Fitzgerald shared several similarities, such as growing up in a small town and being rather unsuccessful sometimes in romantic endeavors.


Luhrmann then described his own development, explaining that as a young man, he had learned to observe people. He explained that his gift was to engage and connect with others, something that changed how he saw life. Just as this was his gift, he said, he recognized that others had gifts of their own.

“Every person has a unique chemical equation which only they have, and they have to spend their whole life revealing it," Luhrmann said. 

Luhrmann reflected on feelings of being lost early in his life, explaining that like Fitzgerald, he had been in love with a woman whom he later lost.

Eventually, Luhrmann said he recovered, but he explained that he still struggled in the film industry. There were moments, he said, that he wanted to give up, even once considering driving his car into a nearby harbor. Yet, Luhrmann explained, making it out of such as difficult period of his life left him with several crucial understandings about the world, notably that listening to oneself is crucial. 

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“Listen to everyone, but then go into a corner and ask yourself, not what do I think, but what do I actually feel. That decision will be the right decision because you made it, and it wasn’t made for you,” he said, adding that if one hesitates before making such decisions, it is usually out of fear. This fear, he explained, must be kept at bay, because otherwise it will stop people from making the right decisions.

He explained that those who have full futures ahead of them are the most interesting, adding that the most interesting people he meets have all been graduating students. 

“The reason I say that is because your lives have not yet been written,” he said. Luhrmann added that self-revelation is crucial, because that's how one really understands oneself, and is key to answering questions about oneself.

“What is the movie of your life. What is your character? What is your script?”

Luhrmann explained that when Fitzgerald left Princeton, the world was undergoing immense, cataclysmic change.

“Now, the world is out of ideas again. It’s exhausted, it’s tired, it’s confused. It needs you. Your truth, your play, your superpower. So, get out there, and make the world new again,” Luhrmann finished.

Following his speech, Luhrmann was inducted into the Class of 2017.