Robin Williams Is Trending, Let’s Remember The ‘O, Captain’ Scene That Inspired a Generation

Robin Williams became a Twitter trend on Friday and initially we could not figure out why. We searched. Looked high and low, and found nothing. With that we decided that we would still participate in the best way we could: ‘O, Captain’ …

Robin Williams as Mr. Keating in ‘Dead Poets Society’

Peter Weir’s coming-of-age classic, Dead Poet’s Society tells the story of an unconventional English teacher and his students. The movie is set in the Welton Academy, a conservative boy’s high school, where Robin William’s character, Mr. Keating, is the new teacher.

“In this class, you can either call me Mr. Keating,” he announced to his students. “Or if you’re slightly more daring, ‘O captain, my captain” — a line from Walt Whitman’s 1865 poem for recently assassinated President Abraham Lincoln.

Throughout the movie, Keating gets his students excited about English lit and encourages them to “carpe diem” or seize the day.

He shows them a photo of former students, saying, “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.”

In an effort to help the boys see things from a “different perspective”, Keating has them climb onto his desk to see the classroom from a fresh angle.

The ‘O captain, my captain’ scene

Keating’s out-of-the-box teaching methods eventually get him in trouble with the heads of the conservative private school. Keating is wrongly blamed for the suicide of Neil Perry (Robert Sean Leonard, one of the students he encouraged to pursue his love for acting).

After Keating is fired, he returns to the classroom to gather his things in the film’s rousing last scene. Led by Perry’s roommate, the once-shy Charlie Dalton (Ethan Hawke), the students salute their former professor by standing up on their desks and declaring, “O captain, my captain”.

When reports started to surface on a dark day in 2014 that Robin Williams had committed suicide, heartbroken fans around the world paid homage to the comedian. Among the many tributes to Williams was a flood of social media tributes to his portrayal of John Keating in the 1989 movie, Dead Poets Society.

“O captain, my captain!” read many posts across social media, citing the line from the Walt Whitman poem featured in the movie’s moving finale. Across social media platforms, the hashtag #ohcaptainmycaptain went viral for the first time.

In our generation’s own way (e.g. Tweets and Instagram posts), we too saluted our fallen hero:

What do you think?

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