Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Nolan Lynch's Veritas Benefit Dinner Speech

(Nolan Lynch (’05) spoke at Veritas School’s  Benefit Dinner, March 2, 2013.  Below is the text of that address.)

It’s hard for me to stress enough what an asset my Veritas education has been - and this has nothing to do with my particular career path. In fact, the reasons an education of the kind and quality offered at Veritas is valuable and useful to me as a writer are exactly the same reasons it is valuable and useful to everyone else.

As a screenwriter, you get about 120 pages before people stop reading. 120 pages to create a world, fill it with complex, believable characters, and use those characters to tell a complete story.

The point is: the attention of any reader - or a listener - is a delicate thing that must be treated with the utmost respect. Say what you’re going to say, say it quickly, say it right, and don’t leave anything out. Accuracy, simplicity, and grace. Truth, goodness, and beauty. We use these words a lot, but they are first and foremost very practical because it doesn’t matter what’s in your head if you can’t share it with other people.

On the other hand, of course, is that there had better be something in your head worth sharing. This is another reason learning to write is so important: writing isn’t just writing. It’s thinking on paper.

Every time I start another script, I buy a new notebook, fill my fountain pen, and start brainstorming. This is more than just a good way to keep track of ideas. This is a way of making ideas. And it’s a way of forming mental habits. If you learn to write critically and systematically, you will also start to think that way. How we organize our writing inevitably becomes how we organize our thoughts, which is why I probably owe more to Mrs. van Hoornbeek and eighth grade English than any other teacher or class I had at Veritas. We may not all be writers, but we’re all thinkers, which is why we all need to learn to write.

This is not to say that the most important thing I learned at Veritas was how to talk and write good and outsmart people. Cleverness is not the point. Mere cleverness is useless. My dad is perhaps over-fond of quoting Marshall MacLuhan who said that the medium is the message. But maybe it’s better to say that the medium is a message. The other message is what you’re actually saying and it had better match up with how you’re saying it.

Here’s another way of looking at it: what story are you telling?

I met a lot of people at film school who had studied film as undergraduates. They had seen a lot of movies, they had already mastered the screenwriting format, which is very specific and very formal, they knew all about film structure, and so on. They knew everything. You might think that everything would be enough. It’s not. The reason it’s not is because on a certain level you can only write about what you know, and if all you know is film, then you end up writing movies that are essentially about other movies, rather than about the world. Because you have nothing new to say. You have no stories to tell. You’re all medium, and no message.

So where does story come from? The answer is simple: Worldview. As a writer, or any kind of artist, your ultimate subject is the world. And the work that you create is the product of your perception of the world. Which is why cultures are most truly revealed in the art that they create and in the stories they tell. Story is worldview incarnate.

And this doesn’t just apply to artists. Everybody has a story to tell because everybody has a worldview. Even the people who are just going through the motions. The people who are all medium and no message, all form and no content. Even that has a message. It says “I don’t care.” It says “The world doesn’t matter.” Whether we like it or not, the way we live tells a story about the world. It may be true, or it may be false. But worldview is not just how we think, it’s how we live.

And in an age when the federal government is largely determining the stories our children are living, this is why a Christian education that helps students develop a Christian worldview is so extraordinary.

And that is where Veritas really excels. You don’t just learn. You learn to learn. Facts are meaningless without a worldview to tie them together, without a story to give them order and purpose. The story that Veritas tells, above all else, is that God made the world and died for it, and as a result, it is a world that is worth learning about, thinking about, forming opinions about, and telling new stories about. That is a worldview that sticks with you for the rest of your life, and will serve you well no matter what you decide to do.

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