It won an Oscar for its screenplay and a BAFTA Award for best film. Entertainment Weekly ranked it as one of the 50 best high school movies of all time. The American Film Institute voted it as one of the 100 most inspiring movies of all time, and included Robin Williams' classic "Carpe diem" speech as one of the all-time greatest movie quotes.
We're talking, of course, about the 1989 dramatic gem 'Dead Poets Society,' in which Williams starred as an unorthodox teacher at a stodgy, private all-boys school. In a setting where everything the students did, from eating and sleeping to dressing and, most definitely, studying, was highly regimented, newbie English teacher John Keating (Williams) taught them to appreciate more liberal, creative pursuits, like poetry and language (To communicate? "No! To woo women!" according to Keating), acting, and in general, day seizing.
Location as Character: The movie's setting is the fictional Welton Academy in Vermont, and the real-world private school St. Andrew's sat in for Welton. Most of the movie was filmed at St. Andrew's, which helped introduce moviegoers to a crop of young actors who would be future stars (including Ethan Hawke, 'The Good Wife' and 'Sports Night' star Josh Charles and 'House' BFF Robert Sean Leonard), as well as the Oscar-nominated dramatic acting chops of comedian Williams.
The school's grand buildings, beautiful, sprawling campus and formal classrooms, in fact, was a supporting character in Mr. Keating's attempts to help his students -- the sons of wealthy families who put tremendous pressure on their offspring to succeed in lives that had, often, been pre-planned for them -- loosen up and color outside the lines -- i.e., his now classic advice to "seize the day." From his introductory instruction to rip out the pages of textbook author J. Evans Prichard's formulaic directions for evaluating poetry, Mr. Keating showed his students he was going to veer from the Welton norm and be a teacher who would inspire them to see things, and pursue things, differently. For aspiring actor Neil (Leonard), that ended tragically, but in the film's tearjerker of a final scene, Mr. Keating also inspired his students to stand up against his firing, and the fact that he was being blamed for Neil's suicide, with their 'O Captain, My Captain' tribute.
Historical Significance: St. Andrew's was founded by A. Felix du Pont (one of the Du Ponts) in 1929, to provide a top educational experience to boys from all economic and social backgrounds. According to the school's Website, 45 percent of St. Andrew's 290 students receive financial aid to help them pay the steep $44,250 (per year!) tuition.
The school, which boasts 11 athletic fields, a 5K cross-country course, six-lane swimming pool, five squash courts, two basketball courts, two wrestling rooms, a fitness room, a weight-training room, 17 tennis courts, a boathouse with 20 shells, an arts center, a chapel, a theater, 220 computers and a two-acre garden on its 2,200-acre campus, offers 90 academic courses and accepts just 30 percent of the students who apply for admission each year.
Among the school's most notable alumni: Life magazine writer Loudon Wainwright Jr.; songwriter/singer/actor Loudon Wainwright III ('The 40-Year-Old Virgin,' 'Undeclared,' 'Knocked Up' and 'M*A*S*H'); and Television lead singer Tom Verlaine.
Fun Fact: A plot point in the movie revolves around the Welton students trying to convince the headmaster to allow girls to be admitted to the school, with Charlie Dalton (Gale Hansen) even offering a phone call from supporter "God" to Headmaster Nolan (Norman Lloyd):
Charlie (answering a phone): "Welton Academy, hello. Yes he is, just a moment. Mr. Nolan, it's for you. It's God. He says we should have girls at Welton."
Welton's real-world counterpart, St. Andrews, also didn't admit females to its academic setting ... until 1974, when the all-dude school became co-ed.
Fun Fact 2: St. Andrews was also used as a location in the second season finale of 'The West Wing.' As Martin Sheen's President Bartlet was grieving the death of secretary Mrs. Landingham (Kathryn Joosten), he flashed back to when he first knew her, when she was the secretary to his father, the headmaster of a school represented by St. Andrews.
Sheen later told interviewer James Lipton that the episode, 'Two Cathedrals,' was the best hour of TV ever made.
Directions: St. Andrews Academy is located at 350 Noxontown Road, Middletown, DE 19709.
From Philadelphia and the North:
Take I-95 South into Delaware (if coming from New York City, enter Delaware via the I-295 Delaware Memorial Bridge), towards Baltimore. Exit at 4-A and follow signs to Rt. 1 South. Stay on Rt. 1, over a bridge with yellow arches and through the tollbooth ($1 weekdays, $2 weekends), until you reach Rt. 299 (Middletown/Odessa Exit). Take a right onto Rt. 299 towards Middletown. At the second light, turn left onto Silver Lake Road, and continue until it ends at Noxontown Road. Cross Noxontown Road and enter St. Andrews through the stone pillars, and park in the circle in front of Founders Hall.
From Washington, D.C.:
Go east on Rt. 50 over the Bay Bridge until it intersects with Rt. 301, and continue on 301 North into Delaware. A half mile past the Hess Truck Stop on Rt. 301, there's a traffic light with a Lowes store on the right; turn right at the light, onto Rt. 299 East, and continue on 299 through the center of Middletown. At the fourth light take a right onto Silver Lake Road, and continue until it ends at Noxontown Road. Cross Noxontown Road and enter St. Andrews through the stone pillars, and park in the circle in front of Founders Hall.
From Baltimore and the South:
Take I-95 North to the Delaware state line. About a mile after tollbooth, exit onto Rt. 896 South and continue for 10 miles to a traffic light, where Rt. 896 becomes Rt. 301/71. Continue through the traffic light for 3 miles, to the next light, and bear left at the Dunkin Donuts. Continue left across the railroad tracks, to the third traffic light in the center of town. Turn left onto Main Street/Rt. 299 East. At the third light, take a right onto Silver Lake Road, and continue until it ends at Noxontown Road. Cross Noxontown Road and enter St. Andrews through the stone pillars, and park in the circle in front of Founders Hall.
Visitor's Info: It's a private boarding school, but perspective students are invited to visit ... so, if you plan to scope the school out, couldn't hurt to take a 9-12 grader along with you, right?