The Robin Williams I may most remember, though, is an English teacher who inspired his students to seize the day. In Dead Poets Society, Williams plays unorthodox professor John Keating, who rejects the conservative culture of the elite Welton Academy and implores his students to strive for meaning in their lives. In the film’s pivotal scene, Williams tells his students that “we don't read and write poetry because it’s cute, we read and write poetry because we are members of the human race.” He goes on to quote Walt Whitman’s “O Me! O Life!,” a poem that ends by speaking directly to its readers: “the powerful play goes on and you may contribute a verse.” Williams then turns to his students and asks the mother of all inspirational questions: “What will your verse be?”
This article reminded me of the time one of my favorite high school teachers (Ms. Messamore) read to us students a poem by Whitman - and maybe it's the mention of Whitman that is reminding me more than the loss of Mr. Williams who played an English teacher. It was a poem that Whitman wrote in response to Abraham Lincoln's death - and I remember that she had to stop on more than one instance because she would begin to cry.
I knew that words read could move you - I've known that longer than I've probably know anything. But it wasn't until then that I learned that words could move you so much that you could forget yourself in public - an adult crying in front of children - and that you didn't care. That the words and the emotion were more important than anything else that was being thought at that moment.
I knew then that I wanted to do the same - to move people to that degree.