My tenth grade English teacher, Jack Nabedrick, threw me a curve that changed my life. On an exam that I’d studied hard for and expected a good grade on, he returned my paper with no grade and the words “Carpe Diem.” As a very serious—even obsessive— student, I wanted that grade, and I marched up to his desk dismayed. “There’s no grade on this paper,” I announced.
“I know,” he said, barely looking up at me from his reading.
He shrugged. “You’ll have to figure it out,” he said.
I was dismayed, to say the least. My goal was to be valedictorian, and I was counting on an A. I wanted that grade!
I trudged to the library to look up carpe diem, which I discovered meant seize the day. It took me awhile, but finally I was forced to consider why Mr. Nabedrick had written those words on my paper. I think he looked at me as someone who was too focused on grades at the expense of really learning, and that there was more to life than a perfect grade. He was challenging me to open myself to opportunities and take risks.
I did get an A in Mr. Nabedrick’s class, and I did become valedictorian. But the words—seize the day—stayed with me. They shook me up, made me realize that my future was in my own hands.
I’ve been thinking about Jack Nabedrick a lot recently, because this is graduation season, and I am often asked what advice I’d give to new grads. Seize the day seems like a good place to start. But once you seize the day, it’s what you do with it that matters.