Good-bye Oh Captain, My Captain

Back in the summer of 1997, between my Junior and Senior years of high school at Brandywine HS in Wilmington, DE, I was preparing to head to Germany for a 7-week summer exchange program with AFS, the American Field Service.  And the night before I left, I went to watch a movie that may well have changed the course of my life: The Dead Poet’s Society.  The simple, yet profound message of Carpe Diem (Seize the Day) inspired me to do and try so many new things during that 7 weeks, at a time that I wanted to stretch my own wings already.  And so many times during my life, when faced with challenges and fears, I remembered the words of the great poet Henry David Thoreau, as spoken by Robin Williams:

“I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived. I did not wish to live what was not life, living is so dear; nor did I wish to practise resignation, unless it was quite necessary. I wanted to live deep and suck out all the marrow of life, to live so sturdily and Spartan-like as to put to rout all that was not life, to cut a broad swath and shave close, to drive life into a corner, and reduce it to its lowest terms.”

And I will never forget the ending scene, as the students stand up on their desks to salute Williams’ character, John Keating, in defiance of the headmaster, with the thrilling words that make me cry without fail:

Oh Captain, My Captain.

Robin Williams Oh Captain, My Captain

Farewell, Robin Williams (July 21, 1951 – Aug. 11 2014)

Surely Robin Williams must have had some idea of how many lives he touched, whether through his dramatic roles or over-the-top comedy.  I only wish that knowledge had been enough to sustain him through the tragedy of his depression and alcohol abuse. How many people are there today who’ve been inspired in some way by him?  To overcome sadness, to reach great heights, to conquer fear, to be strong, and of course, to laugh uncontrollably.  If only his laughter had been enough to be the medicine he needed, as it was for us, his audience. I sit here on my sofa, typing this through a flood of tears that make it hard to see the screen.  I look at that photo – how many memories were shaped by him?  How many dreams inspired?  Think of the impact – a movie and a role that I watched nearly 30 years ago still has the power to move my spirit to tears. There’s so much more that I could write, and surely many will write far more eloquently than I ever could, but for now, I can only see that image of Williams as Keating, with the boys saluting him, and I can only say “Godspeed to you, Robin Williams.  You will be greatly missed, but never forgotten.  And thank you.”


Dead Poets Society 2


[Edit on 08/12)

This morning I woke up to see a Tweet from The Academy that was also just so perfect, it made me cry all over again.