What will your verse be?

Robin Williams passing has stuck with me. It wasn’t until I scrolled through Twitter hashtags, trending Facebook messages and countless video tributes that I realized how many wonderful pop culture sound bites were contributed by this very talented man.

My transitional Robin Williams moment was in high school. My eccentric senior English teacher played Dead Poet’s Society in class and for the first time in my life, I considered embracing my love of the stage. This was indeed an odd concept for a closeted introvert. I was equal parts dance lover and academic nerd who hated math. I was a polite, respectful rule follower who completely came out of my shell when presented with a beautiful piece of choreography or One Act Play script. When Williams’ character Professor Keating tells his classroom full of people pleasing students, “No matter what anybody tells you, words and ideas can change the world,” I sat a little straighter.

Mrs. Lee was a hundred years old, looked like the Fairy Godmother in Cinderella and taught exactly one honors English class at Hallsville High School. She also completely believed with all of her heart that she could correctly predict the future. We all loved her. She encouraged those of us with a creative streak to approach our studies in unconventional ways. For example, Mrs. Lee gave us a choice when it came to tests. We could either take a written one or turn in a video depicting all the lessons learned from the piece of literature. WHO DOES THAT? My friend Julie and I were approached by two brilliant classmates (Gene and Adrian) to see if we wanted to team up and submit our final on Pygmalion as a video. I can still remember Julie yelling at the horses in the pasture next to my house, “COME ON DOVER! MOVE YOUR BLOOMIN’ ARSE!”

We may have thrown some My Fair Lady references in there for comic relief. And Mrs. Lee loved every second of our masterpiece.

She encouraged us to look at our lives through a different lens. She knew we had potential and that a great big world was out there just waiting for us to make our mark. She gave us permission to be ourselves and freedom to branch out a bit beyond our comfort zones. I had no idea at the time, but her entire class was a lesson on carpe diem. For a bunch of kids from a one red light town, this was an extremely important part of our education.

Professor Keating: “The world is their oyster. They believe they’re destined for great things, just like many of you. Their eyes are full of hope, just like you. Did they wait until it was too late to make from their lives even one iota of what they were capable? Because, you see gentlemen, these boys are now fertilizing daffodils. But if you listen real close, you can hear them whisper their legacy to you. Go on, lean in. Listen, you hear it? Carpe diem. Seize the day boys. Make your lives extraordinary.”

Mrs. Lee helped us to consider the possibility of making our lives extraordinary. And it worked. I think back to all of my friends in that class and smile at the phenomenal things they are doing with their lives. I’m so glad that Gene was compassionate enough to arrange for a proper send off during the final exam on our last day in Mrs. Lee’s class. One-by-one, we all stood on our desks and saluted her with a heartfelt, “Oh Captain, my Captain.” I still get a little teary thinking about it today.

Dancing may not have been my career path, but that’s okay. This is my stage. Words are my life and I find great comfort in Professor Keating’s charge to his students:

We don’t read and write poetry because it’s cute. We read and write poetry because we are members of the human race. And the human race is filled with passion. And medicine, law, business, engineering, these are noble pursuits and necessary to sustain life. But poetry, beauty, romance, love — these are what we stay alive for. You are here – life exists. The powerful play goes on and you may contribute a verse. What will your verse be?

If you’re hurting, please find someone to talk to. USA Suicide Prevention Hotline: 1-800-273-8255.

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19 Comments on "What will your verse be?"

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Hayleyhb
Hayleyhb

Wow! Thanks for sharing your gift!!!! I bet Mrs Lee could not be prouder of you!

Lorraine
Lorraine

That was beautiful and poignant; one of the best tributes I’ve read about Robin William’s passing. I’m glad he and Mrs. Lee inspired you so much.

Rachel
Rachel

This brought me to tears. What a beautiful piece. I am getting ready to start the school year. I teach grades 10-12. They have crammed way too many students into my classes. But I want to reach them. I wanted to refuse to proctor the standardized testing that is destroying our educational system and making it nearly impossible for someone like Mrs. Lee to give you the kind of experiences she did. I was told by the union that, in my state, I would lose my teaching certificate and my retirement if I didn’t give the tests. But I protest in my own way. I give alternate assignments, too. Most kids do as little as possible because they have lost the spark. But some kids blow me away with their creations. We have to let teachers teach to their passion. That’s the best way to give kids a good education…and to save them. You make Mrs. Lee and, by extension, all teachers very proud. Your Mrs. Lee has inspired me because you wrote such a profound piece about her. Allow me to thank you for that in case she can’t.

Chris
Chris

Lincee, I love this, thank you for sharing your gift of writing with us. From your hilarious recaps to your serious pieces you capture our hearts. Carpe Diem!

Norma
Norma

Lincee, you truly are gifted with the ability to write beautiful, insightful and even hilarious pieces. Your talent is beyond amazing. I enjoy reading every thing you write. Thank you for sharing your gift with us.

Sara

What a wonderful tribute! You wrote a wonderful tribute to Mrs. Lee! Her legacy lives on through you! I really enjoyed learning about her!

Ally
Ally

Just.Wow!

Shelle
Shelle

Oh Captain, my Captain.

Wendy
Wendy

Lincee thank you for rekindling the memory of Mrs. Lee. We all listened to her tell us our predictions as if we were listening to our futures. What a great article. I’m so thankful we are able to benefit from your talent of writing.

Jackie
Jackie

Lincee – as always, what a thoughtful and beautifully expressed memory! Dead Poet’s Society has always been one of the most powerful movies for me too. A history teacher of mine showed it to us – he was our Mrs. Lee – always encouraging us to go out into the world and change it in our own way. Sadly he passed away in the fall of my senior year of high school. At a mass in his honor, our class recited O Captain, My Captain! and one by one all the girls in the senior class stood as we read it. Still brings tears to my eyes.

Teachers should never under estimate the power they have to change children’s direction in life. And those that care enough to want to reach their students like that always will!

loves waves
loves waves

I am one of the people in this life fortunate to have known the gentleman personally and watched him change from a teen to the precious (hu)man he became. He was everything positive you’ve heard, and so much more. His passing leaves a wound in many of us, and I am quite sure he never would have believed (or been able to endure) the sheer volume of love and support expressed for him at his passing. It’s hard to imagine a world where Robin isn’t riding his bike or riffing off the SF Giants mascot, or telling stories about how much funnier his mother was than he.

We need to forget the way his passing took place, and forever remember the joy and love he tried so hard to share.

Thank you Lincee, for sharing yours to add to that burgeoning collection of the Story of Robin. I’m quite sure you would have made him smile, and that was everything.

Lorraine
Lorraine

loves waves, thank you for sharing that with us here and for reminding us to remember the joy. Robin brought me so much laughter in my life, and my formative years were spent working in a movie theater in the ’90s. I cannot tell you how many times I sneaked into the back during one of his movies. I re-watched several favorite movies on the weekend, and they all brought back fond memories. I send to you my deepest condolences.

Beth
Beth

Beautifully written, Lincee. My Mrs. Lee was my amazing, senior year AP English teacher, Mr. White. <3 He had a list (hundreds and hundreds and hundreds) of books from all genres and periods that we were able to individually choose to read. Each book had points assigned to it (based on length, readability, etc.). Once we were finished reading a book (at our own pace) we had to recap it (either via traditional book report, creativly writing alternate endings in the author's style, writing a review to encourage others to read the book, having a face to face discussion with Mr. White, etc.) before we started on our next choice. At the end of the semester/year, Mr. White simply totaled up the points, and that was our grade. It was my favorite class. Ever.

I constantly devoured books that year (still do!), and my love of reading/writing grew exponentially because of his amazing passion for literature and creative teaching methods. I ended up double majoring in English and Ary History as an undergrad, and I still utilize those writing and reading skills on a daily basis (although legal writing is not nearly as fun as creative writing, lol).

In any event, I wish everyone was lucky enough to have a Prof. Keating/Mrs. Lee/Mr. White during their formative educational years. Perhaps the world would be a bit more filled with beauty. <3 Thanks for sharing, Lincee.

P.S. – I still have that reading list, and I have vowed to read each and every book on it during my lifetime.

arlene
arlene

Lincee, I am so glad you had a Mrs. Lee. Robin Williams’ death impacted me, too. Keep sharing your gift of writing.

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