As the students crowded around trophy cases full of old black-and-white photographs, the teacher crouched behind them and slowly whispered, “Carpe…carpe diem…seize the day, boys…make your lives extraordinary….”
I never took a Latin class, but I did learn to love that phrase: Carpe diem.
During my senior year of high school, my creative writing teacher introduced us to a soon-to-be-released movie called Dead Poets Society. She had gotten hold of some condensed versions of the movie script, and we read it aloud in class. I remember our Australian exchange student played the part of the inspirational teacher in the reading, and I still hear her accented voice saying those words, carpe diem.
It was a good enough story in its shortened version; I was very much into poetry at the time, and anything that this particular teacher recommended I took as gospel. So when the movie came out the summer after I graduated, I was eager to see it.
The movie told the story of a group of high school boys enrolled at a boarding prep school in New England in the 1950s. Their lives were dramatically changed by the introduction of a radically inspirational new teacher, Mr. Keating, as played by Robin Williams. Through unconventional methods he taught them to question the status quo, to be free thinkers, and to “do more…be more.” It was the message I needed to hear at precisely the time I needed to hear it.
At the time I had just turned 17 and was eager to get away to college and experience everything new. I was soaking up every word my own radically inspirational teacher said. I was yearning to be worldly and wise.
At college, I introduced one of my freshman year roommates to DPS. She fell in love with it just like I did, and this bond was a major pillar of our friendship. Whenever it played at the dollar theater, we caught a ride to see it. If we heard a dorm-mate had rented it, we knocked on her door to watch it. We regularly quoted lines from it in everyday conversation. It was a part of us. And how we loved those boys; she loved Knox, I loved Neil.
But really, we loved them all. They were the boys we wanted to meet, the boys who would write us poetry and reveal secrets about themselves to us. Boys who would find us beautiful but be even more interested in our minds.
We didn’t meet those boys anytime soon, certainly not that year. But the movie gave us hope that they were out there. And it gave us a seed of motivation that, 20 years later, I can see has grown in both of us and influenced choices we’ve made along the way. Both professionally and personally we’ve heard that whisper coming from behind us saying, “seize the day…make your life extraordinary.”
There are so many lines that spoke to me in that movie, I could fill pages just quoting them all. But one of the strongest was, “The powerful play goes on, and you may contribute a verse.” It is my life’s goal to contribute a verse that is remembered. It is why I write and why I push myself to reach out to relationships I was previously scared to pursue. I’m still working my way up to a barbaric YAWP, as Mr. Keating encouraged the boys to exalt. I try to remember, as he told them, that “poetry, beauty, romance, love—these are what we stay alive for.”
I still get choked up every single time I watch that movie. The beauty of scenery, the truth of the theme, and the emotion of the tragedy never fail to touch me. But above all, the closing scene where the boys take a final stand to honor their teacher who was forced out of his job shaped the way I view loyalty. I hope that when the opportunity arises I can be as courageous as they were in standing up to defend the honor of someone I truly believe in. And I hope that my contributed verse will be honorable.