Dead Poets Society

7 Truths We Learned from Dead Poets Society

By Jim Frye

It’s time to sound our barbaric yawps over the rooftops again!

The incomparable Robin Williams inspired a generation to live passionately and stand on their desks in the Touchstone Pictures classic Dead Poets Society—and 30 years later, that inspiration is as strong as ever. Nominated for four Academy Awards® and winning Best Original Screenplay for the script by Tom Schulman—who, coincidentally, was also a writer of Disney’s Honey, I Shrunk the Kids, out that same year—Dead Poets Society features Disney Legend Williams as Mr. Keating, a spirited English teacher who breaks the mold at a strict New England boarding school to inspire his students to live bold, passionate lives. And he does it all by using literature.

Here, we’ve collected seven of our favorite lessons learned from Mr. Keating. Grab your literature book and read along with us!

Dead Poets Society

1. “No matter what anybody tells you, words and ideas can change the world.”
Mr. Keating loves literature and poetry, and he tries to pass this love on to his students. But instead of just spouting tired, worn-out lessons, Mr. Keating sweeps his students up in his enthusiasm in true Robin Williams fashion, and he impresses on them that their ideas and words are important. They can change the world!

2. “There is a time for daring, and there is a time for caution. And a wise man understands which is called for.”
The kids quickly warm to Mr. Keating’s unorthodox style and take his lessons to heart, but one student pushes a bit too hard against the rules of the school, landing himself on the painful side of a paddle (the disciplinary method practiced by the film’s mid-50s boarding school). Mr. Keating steps in and encourages the students to use wisdom in their decision-making process—and avoid that paddle!

3. “We must constantly look at things in a different way.”
One day, Mr. Keating jumps up on his desk and extols the virtues of seeing things from a different perspective. He teaches the students that an open mind, one that is eager to understand different perspectives, is vital. He then instructs each of his students to take their turn atop his desk, looking around and seeing things from a new perspective. Silly? Maybe. Effective? Definitely.

Dead Poets Society

4. “Poetry, beauty, romance, love… these are what we stay alive for.”
It’s not all about going to work, earning money, and buying shiny things. Keating pushes his students—and us—to seek out the important things in life—beauty, romance, love—and to celebrate the passions that drive us in our lives.

5. “You must strive to find your own voice.”
It’s too easy to become part of the herd, to believe and say what everyone is saying even if we don’t believe it. It’s more difficult, though, to stand firm to our beliefs and recognize our own voice. Mr. Keating stressed the importance of finding your voice and doing it early! Because the more we follow the crowd, the harder it becomes to break free.

Dead Poets Society

6. “What will your verse be?”
In one of the most beautiful yet haunting moments in the film, Mr. Keating discusses the lives of those who have gone before us. They’ve each left their mark and contributed a verse to “the powerful play” that is our collective existence. We’re all part of the history that is being created around us. What will our contribution—our verse—be?

7. “Carpe diem. Seize the day, boys. Make your lives extraordinary.”
It’s impossible to think of this film without also saying aloud, “Carpe Diem!” It means “seize the day,” and it’s the most famous Mr. Keating quote from the film, the one that inspires the students—and all of us!—to live lives passionately, with purpose and verve.

Dead Poets Society will forever immortalize Robin Williams—and Mr. Keating—for the joy, passion, and excitement he shared with his students, and with us! For this, Mr. Keating, “O Captain, my Captain,” we will always be grateful! Seize the day!

Inspired to watch Mr. Keating’s lessons for yourself? You can purchase a copy of Dead Poets Society on Movies Anywhere.