Two of the most influential roles I have ever watched both belong to Robin Williams. Sure, I first met him as the voice of Genie in Aladdin and he was my hero as Peter Pan in Hook, but I’m talking about two of his most serious roles.
In 1989, the year I was born, a film about a teacher who taught his students to seize the day was released. It would be over a decade until I saw it. Early in my college career, when I first decided to become a teacher, I saw it because of another film role of Williams that I’ll talk about in a few words. I knew what teacher I wanted to be when I finally saw Williams as John Keating. I wanted to teach literature and writing, but I wanted to inspire my students to live and be good humans. Every Friday I remind my 11th and 12th grade students to make good decisions. Whatever they decide, I hope they look back and say that they did good. They are at a transition in their life and one they I want them to look back and of course say that they did well in school and were successful. But more importantly I want them to have done some good as well. Good for themselves and good for society.
Earlier this year, a girl in my first hour asked me if I had seen Dead Poets Society. In a sarcastic was I respond like I normally do when I assume everyone should have seen a film or read a book or even had a certain food: “Of course. I’m human.” She laughed, but then got a little more serious.
“You remind me of that teacher in it.”
Goosebumps. Instant goosebumps.
I sincerely thanked her and told her that character influenced how I talked and treated students. Sometimes I know I don’t hold up to those standards and admit that I have not had such an impact on my students as John Keating had in Dead Poets Society. But I do hope that I have had some impact on them.
The other role Williams acted in that I consider one of my favorites is as Dr. Sean Maguire in Good Will Hunting. I saw this early in my “critically acclaimed only” snob phase. Of course I’m glad I did see it. The film taught me a lot about life. It reminded me to never be okay with anything. It taught me to strive every day. I’m not saying I did that, but I’m saying I know I should have. The character is very similar to John Keating. He’s comforting and guiding while being genuine and witty.
If Keating was who I want to be now, Maguire is who I want to be years from now. Hardened by loss, but not defeated. A disdain for giving up, but never disappointed in those who try and fail. Having so much sympathy, but never apathy. I want my students to understand that caring is ‘cool’ and that they will never look back and say that they cared too much, but will look back and wish they weren’t so nonchalant with so many aspects of life.
In short, I am deeply saddened by the loss of Robin Williams. His death will be talked heavily about in the next few days. I am not going to go into mental health and depression now. I just wanted to have a place where I reminded myself of an actor who did what all actors want: leave an emotional connection through his craft.
Robin Williams will always stay with me. No matter what.