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What Robin Williams Taught Me about Life and Travel

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?

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Saturday 16th of August 2014

A truly wonderful tribute Jessica! Dead Poet’s Society is a magnificent movie and a incredible inspiration indeed. He was such an influence in his role as Mr. Keating and I believe an inspiration that went far beyond acting. When I heard of his passing I felt the sudden urge to watch exactly this film again and your post just has been another reminder to do so. Thanks for "your verse" and keep writing!

By the way, the other day I came across following: Might be of interest for Hai as well maybe!?

Jessica Korteman

Sunday 17th of August 2014

Thank you Oliver! This film will be for the ages, I'm sure of it. I hope it will continue to inspire people from a young age to make the most of the opportunities that come their way. I don't know if it is still on the school curriculum in Australia, but I certainly hope it is.

Thanks for sharing the mime story. Imagine finding those gems in your old boxes of negatives?! I will definitely share it with Hai. :)


Friday 15th of August 2014

That just gave me chills! I had forgotten how powerful those words were.

I was first introduced to Robin Williams through the show, "Mork and Mindy," which I adored. Robin's lovable Mork taught me that it's okay to be different and that our weirdness is what makes us special.

He will be missed beyond measure.

Jessica Korteman

Sunday 17th of August 2014

Such a powerful scene, isn't it?! No matter how many times I watch it, I never tire of it.

I must admit, I've never seen "Mork and Mindy". I can only imagine what a wonderful character he created. Sounds like it had its own dose of life inspiration for us.

He will be truly missed.

Britt Skrabanek

Friday 15th of August 2014

I love hearing your heart through your words, Jess. Such a lovely tribute to the great Robin Williams. I must admit that I'm still in shock, so much that the thought of writing a piece wasn't possible as I thought it would make the reality too definitive.

I grew up with Robin and always thought of him as a magical man. He never seemed like an actor in a movie to me. He just came alive.

While I have many, many loves...Birdcage is one of my all-time faves. It's one of the funniest and sweetest movies I have ever seen.

Jessica Korteman

Sunday 17th of August 2014

You're so right, Britt! He was so full of life in his roles, that you were truly convinced he must have been born into them. Time and time again.

Oh gosh, I haven't even seen Birdcage. Seriously, you never want me on your team for movie trivia rounds! Adding it to my list of things to watch.

Les Petits Pas de Juls

Friday 15th of August 2014

You said it all, again, so truly.

We've been inspired by the same movie, the same actor, one that was so full of life it's hard to believe he couldn't find enough light in it anymore that he felt compelled to take his own.

"Carpe Diem," "Seize the Day," "Live your life so that, in the end, we have no regrets."

that's what Robin, in this movie, and with his laughter in general, taught us and shared with us.

Like you, it is imprinted in my mind (actually also in my skin) and that's why traveling and learning is so important for me today.

For him, then, and so that, comes that day, we will have no regrets:


Jessica Korteman

Sunday 17th of August 2014

Thank you Jul'. Everything you said here resonates so strongly with me. You're right, it is like a part of you - your skin, blood, breath... Living deliberately is not something that we can, or would want to, shake.

Carpe diem, indeed!

Alex-Wanderlust Marriage

Wednesday 13th of August 2014

Great tribute! Dead Poet's Society is a great flick that I haven't seen in too many years...My favorite Williams movie has always been 'Goodwill Hunting' and ironically we live in Boston now.

We're planning to visit the South Boston (Southie) pub where many pub scenes in the film were shot, asap. My Dad is in town visiting at the moment and not really a bar guy, and the pub is a little out of the way from us, otherwise we would have been drinking there last night!!

Jessica Korteman

Sunday 17th of August 2014

Thanks Alex! Admittedly I haven't seen that one either. Jeepers creepers, better watch it!

Sounds like a great place to raise a glass for a great man! Hope you're having an awesome time with your Dad!

By the way, got your email. Will reply shortly. :)

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