A couple of months ago, I vowed to share more of my personal thoughts here on the blog and so here I am, writing. Today, like many of you, I learned of Robin Williams' tragic passing and, like many of you, feel saddened by the loss of this true comic genius.
I'm by no means a film aficionado, believe me. Hai recently coerced me into watching Back to the Future for the first time and – please don't hate me – I haven't seen more than a minute or two of the Stars Wars series. The originals are classics, Hai tells me.
Yet of all the films I haven't seen, there is one that I remember clearly and with such reverence, I'm sure my life changed because of it. That film was Dead Poets Society, a drama in which Williams played the role of an unorthodox English teacher by the name of John Keating at the all-boys Welton Academy. Encouraging love of poetry and free-thinking, Keating inspires his students to live their lives with passion and pursue their dreams. Tragically, after receiving opposition from his father to pursue his own dreams, one of Keating's most passionate students, Neil Perry, takes his own life, leading to the demise of Keating's teaching career.
It was one of the movies we studied in Year 10 English class. We watched it, dissected and discussed the scenes and underlying themes, and wrote opinionated essays about it for an entire term. I still remember the essay topic that I chose from the list during our final English exam: “It was ultimately Mr. Keating who was responsible for Neil Perry's death. Discuss.”
My response was a resounding no, arguing that Mr. Keating did more for Neil's love of life than anything else and it was ultimately Neil's father who took the light away from budding Perry, using scenes and quotes from the film to substantiate my argument.
The movie is filled with countless captivating scenes, you'd think it would be hard to remember so many of them. Yet, 25 years on since its release, we do remember. Not only do we remember the words, but how they were delivered with such passion, how they sent a surge of emotion through us – from laughter and hope to despair and inspiration. I hold Robin Williams personally responsible for the popularization of the phrase ‘carpe diem' and why much of the world can confidently say what it means in Latin.
The ‘carpe diem' or ‘seize the day' speech is one of the most powerful and inspirational scenes in the movie and in film history. In a display of his unorthodox teaching methods, rather than having his students study in the classroom, one day Keating takes his lesson out into the halls and asks the boys to look at the old pictures of the young men who had attended the school before them, to really study them, and delivers this spine-tingling speech:
“They're not that different from you, are they? Same haircuts. Full of hormones, just like you. Invincible, just like you feel. The world is their oyster. They believe they're destined for great things, just like many of you, their eyes are full of hope, just like you. Did they wait until it was too late to make from their lives even one iota of what they were capable? Because, you see gentlemen, these boys are now fertilizing daffodils. But if you listen real close, you can hear them whisper their legacy to you. Go on, lean in. Listen, you hear it? – – Carpe – – hear it? – – Carpe, carpe diem, seize the day boys, make your lives extraordinary.”
When people ask me why Hai and I choose to live our lives travelling, I basically deliver my own rip-off of this speech. I want to live my life with no regrets. I want to become the best version of myself, the best I can be. This requires challenge, sacrifice, being out of my comfort zone. I want to see and experience all I can. To jump on every opportunity. To seize every day. I want my life to be worth remembering. I want it to be extraordinary.
I could sit here and type out line after line from Mr. Keating that has inspired me to live a life of travel and spurred my sometimes annoyingly ceaseless optimism. But instead I just say thank you. Thank you Robin for leaving a lasting impression on me through this perfectly breathtaking performance and for making me overwhelmingly and wholeheartedly believe in this:
“No matter what anybody tells you, words and ideas can change the world.”
Rest in peace.
What's your favourite Robin Williams quote/moment?