The late and great American actor and comedian Robin Williams (1951–2014) starred in films, television and video games throughout his career.
Williams studied acting at the College of Marin in California and later at the Juilliard School in New York. His first acting role was in the revival of “Laugh-In” in 1977, before he portrayed Mork in “Mork & Mindy” from 1978 to 1982 and the titular role in “Popeye.” After starring in less financially successful films, he made his breakthrough performance in “Good Morning, Vietnam.” Good movies such as “Good Will Hunting” and “Patch” are additional outstanding performances.
Yet for me, “Dead Poets Society” — a 1989 American drama film set in 1959 at the fictional elite conservative Vermont boarding school Welton Academy — tells the story of an English teacher (Williams portrays Professor John Keating) who inspires his students through his teaching of poetry.
The film received critical acclaim and was a box office success. There are numerous scenes that are used today in teaching character education, leadership, and reminding each of us of the need to shift our own paradigms (the subjective maps in which we see the world).
The one that stands out for me as I author this article, centers around Professor Keating attempting to teach about the very preciousness of life itself.
Keating assembles his young men directly in front of the school’s trophy case, which contains pictures of many young men who also graduated from the school and have passed on years ago.
Reminding each student that these men, too, were full of “raging hormones, their lives were filled with hopes and dreams — yet, now they are “food for worms” and “fertilizer for daffodils” — he cements the lesson by asking a particular student to open his hymnal (textbook) to a very historic poem, and to recite out loud, “To the Virgins to Make Much of Time” by Robert Harrick in 1648:
“Gather ye rosebuds while ye may,
Old time is still a-flying;
And this same flower that smiles today
Tomorrow will be dying.
The glorious lamp of heaven the sun,
The higher he’s a-getting,
The sooner will his race be run,
And nearer he’s to setting.
That age is best, which is the first,
When youth and blood are warmer;
But being spent, the worse, and worst
Times still succeed the former.
Then be not coy, but use your time,
And, while ye may, go marry;
For, having lost but once your prime,
You may forever tarry.
Following the recital, Keating invites each of the young men to lean in closely to the trophy case glass windows …. then he whispers very softy the following — “Carpe Diem — Carpe Diem — Seize the day boys, gather ye rosebuds, live your life with truth and meaning” … “make every minute count.”
The moral here is to live each day to the fullest, make a contribution that you will be proud of, and give to those who need your love and support. We all have 168 hours in each week; how we choose to spend it, is totally up to each of us.
When you put first things first, and combine it with joy, laughter, and service to others— you will indeed leave a legacy.
One of our Founding Fathers, Ben Franklin, is often referred to as Father Time, and famously stated: “Dost thou love life?… Then do not squander time, because time is the stuff that life is made of.”
Things that matter most must never be at the mercy of things that matter least.
So, prioritize, commit and seize each day …
Greg Oliver served as teacher and administrator on the Laurel Oaks campus from 1973-1985, principal at East Clinton High School 1985-1989, and still works in education as Specialist of Alliances and Partnerships with Pearson Education, with a remote office in Wilmington.