Twenty-five years ago this summer, I sat in a packed Texas movie theater with a high school friend. The movie was Dead Poet’s Society, and in it, the late actor Robin Williams’ character teaches Literature at an all-boy’s prep school in the 1950s. To engage his students who had been previously taught to embrace conformity and shun the radical, Williams hops on a desk and recites a Walt Whitman poem. Then he bellows out, “Carpe Diem…Seize the day!”
Three years later, I stood on a high school stage in Oklahoma and proceeded to give my salutatorian speech to fellow students. As I nervously shifted through notecards, I rarely made eye contact with the audience. Yet I still felt quite passionate about encouraging my peers to follow their dreams, whether that was heading to college, enlisting in the military, or taking a cross-country road trip to ‘find themselves.’
“Carpe Diem, seize the day,” I told my classmates. “Take your dreams and run with them.”
Seizing the Day One Day at a Time
The untimely death of Robin Williams affected most of us on a profound and personal level. It affected me. The first film I remember seeing with my dad was Popeye in 1980. I saw Aladdin in 1992 with my first college crush. And I watched Dead Poet’s Society in 1989 when I wondered whether to pursue writing as a life calling. Williams’ character’s message of Carpe Diem gave me the kick start to begin.
And there was another reason to mourn his passing. Williams was, for many in my generation, the first movie friend we never met. Was it because his movies made us laugh or inspired us? Was it his boyish grin and twinkly eyes? Was it the innocence and kindness he projected on TV and in interviews? What about the gentle yet humorous tactics Williams used to help lifelong friend Christopher Reeves stay hopeful after the paralyzing horse-riding fall that eventually took Reeves’ life? Captain Hook did everything he could to help his Superman friend smile. Was it the way Williams cheered up children on the screen in the films Popeye and Aladdin? Or how his movies Good Morning, Vietnam and Hook inspired courage and whimsy among adults?
When I stood on a high school stage and addressed the graduating class of 1992, it was made possible because of the Latin phrase Williams eloquently used in Dead Poet’s Society. I believed those two words because Robin’s character had expressed them with such fiery conviction to his students. And I am a published writer today because of the words Carpe Diem.
Robin, wherever you are, I stand on my writer’s desk and salute you. Thank you for encouraging me and my generation through your glorious joy to seize each day.
Readers: Share Your Favorite Robin Williams’ Moment
How did Williams’ films and his life encourage, entertain, and inspire you? Lipreading Mom invites you to comment on this extraordinary person.