Carpe Diem – Living An Extraodinary Life

This is the address I gave to our school on the occasion of our annual Awards Evening (8 December 2011) :

Carpe Diem

There is a well known poem which begins:

Gather ye rosebuds while ye may,
Old Time is still a-flying:
And this same flower that smiles to-day
To-morrow will be dying

The poet, Robert Herrick, reminds the reader that time does not wait for anyone. The poem is in fact an encouragement to young women to get on with it and marry. Times have changed I certainly would tell our young ladies to be patient! However the overall message is one to young people to make the most of their youth and to use every opportunity it brings.

It is this poem which Prof John Keating, played by Robin Williams in the film Dead Poets Society, recites to his young students during their first English lesson of the year. He takes them out of the classroom into a passage where large cabinets filled with historical memorabilia and photographs stand gathering dust. Prof Keating tells his boys to look into the eyes of the young men in the photographs, some of which are obviously very old. He tells them that those young men also had dreams. They also wanted to make something of their lives. He encourages the boys to lean forward to hear the message being told to them by those young men in the photographs – As they lean forward Prof Keating says, “Carpe Diem lads! Seize the day! Make your lives extraordinary!” (See the clip here –

That scene captured my imagination not only as a teacher but as a human being. It reminds me that every day I can make the most of the opportunities which come my way. It reminds me to work on developing new skills, to live each day with passion and meaning. When I focus myself on making the most of every opportunity I am able to grow and develop into the person I was made to be.

Let me offer three ways in which each of us can seize the day and make ourselves extraordinary :

1) Focus on others :
It is very tempting to become caught up in our own drama, our own difficulties, the struggles at work, the difficult colleague who seems determined to sow dissidence in the workplace, financial worries which make sleeping at night a struggle. It becomes easier to deal with these realities when we learn to turn our eyes outwards and focus on the needs of others. It is often when we do that, that we realise how fortunate we are.

It is the beggar on the street corner when you’ve complained about your poor salary, it’s the homeless man under a piece of cardboard when you’re dissatisfied with the size of your house, it’s the paraplegic in a wheelchair when you’ve moaned about a sore leg from having walked around a lot at work, it’s the infertile couple who have tried for years to have a baby when you’re beyond frustrated with your toddler’s tantrum.

Carpe Diem means : Stop! Take a look around you. Be grateful for what you have and be a blessing to others.

2) Find your passion :
Passion needs to be found and nurtured. When we find our passion, we develop confidence to try new things, we are more willing to take risks and we take the road less travelled by.

Passion cannot be faked. It is something which comes from deep within. It has its own energy which propels us forward to new and exciting ventures. We can discover our passion by pursuing that which keeps us talking until the late hours or the subject about which we want to read continually. We learn about our passion by considering those hobbies or activities that we already give hours to without complaint.

Carpe Diem means: Find your passion – pursue it and live it out!

3) Make your life extraordinary :
We tend to think of famous people as those who live extraordinary lives; those who live in the media spotlight as celebrities. While this may well be true, it is also true of the thousands of people who don’t make the headlines but who live lives of significance each day. These are those who diligently apply themselves to the improvement of the lives of those around them and who use their passion to make a difference to the world.

It is these people who live out the “Carpe diem”philosophy – making the most of every opportunity to realise their potential and use it to make the world a better place.

Carpe Diem means : I will be the best I can be and be a difference-maker in the world.

I believe that good teachers teach, great teachers inspire. What they inspire is a desire in children and young people to reach beyond their circumstances, to see beyond the obvious, to learn more about their world with an insatiable curiousity, to ask questions which to other may seem frivolous and most of all, great teachers inspire our children, the future leaders of our country, to seize every opportunity which comes their way to make our world (and theirs) and better place than the one we are leaving them. This generation of young people has the opportunity to seize the day – to grasp the challenges of climate change, to embrace new technologies in positive ways, to seek solutions to the vast difficulties of socio-economic inequalities in our country and on the global stage and to seek solutions for the many conflicts which beset our world.

To make this philosophy easier for our younger audience, here is a video which I would like to share :

So “Gather ye rosebuds while ye may; old Time is still a-flying” – go make your lives extraordinary. You can make a difference in the world!

God bless you all.


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