A few months ago, I rewatched Dead Poets Society.
Watching it again as a high school senior, starting the college application process and standing at the intersection of decisions, I have gained new revelations. The students that were being told to pursue the “noble paths” that is law, medicine, or business felt more resonating than ever.
Around me, my friends and peer groups echo similar sentiments. A close friend of mine told me that she was set to study accounting and finance in college because that was the family expectation and because it felt like a career path that could provide stability. When I ask a same age relative, let’s call her Loura, what she wanted to study, she said dentistry because it was a lucrative career. Of course, I have no right to criticize anyone, and I don’t intend to. I personally only have the vaguest idea of my future career path.
These reasons, though perfectly legitimate, made me wonder a question that I have started pondering since watching Dead Poets Society: to what extent should society’s view of success influence us?
Perhaps using “should” is not the correct term because it implies a level of obligation, but oftentimes, as I contemplate my future career choices, major choices, and more, I find two main forces acting to influence my decision. One is my innate passion, a voice telling me this is what I love to do. Its the force that draws Neil to acting, and me to the social sciences, writing, and community service. On the other hand, society seems to be reinforcing a certain type of path. It tells us that stability, prestige, and earnings are the bulk of our decision.
When I think back to Neil’s decision to sacrifice himself to protect his integrity and honor his aspirations, I don’t think Weir’s message was “art above all” or anything of the like. He used Todd to remind us that we will, inevitably, surrender to reality. But when Todd stood on the desk and gave his final salute, he rebelled. This perhaps is the best. It isn’t a complete disregard for the society we occupy, but we also don’t forget we are so as to completely lose our abilities to think and feel passion for what we do.
No doubt, we are all influenced by reality and idealism. But what is the best way to balance them? People often fear that they are not on the “right” path, but for now, I believe that the right path is the one we will love and explore, and if necessary, conform a little bit.