Learning From Leo: What Comes Next

I first fell for Leonardo DiCaprio my freshman year of high school. In my English class, we read Romeo and Juliet and watched both the Franco Zeffirelli and Baz Luhrmann adaptations of Shakespeare's classic love story. However, it was Luhrmann's film, and specifically Leonardo DiCaprio's portrayal of Romeo that I found the most compelling. I fell in love with DiCaprio the second I saw that film, and after watching the final scene, I cried harder than I ever have before or since for a movie.

The summer before my senior year of high school, I watched Titanic for the first time with a boy who later became my first love. Just a few weeks before, my grandmother had passed away, and Titanic finally provided me with the cathartic release of emotions I had held in for too long following her passing. DiCaprio and Kate Winslet beautifully portrayed a tale of love and the hope of reuniting after death. They pulled me through my own pain, and, by the ending credits, my date and I had shared our first kiss (a tearful yet romantic one).

My freshman year of college, Baz Luhrmann's spectacular and vivid take on The Great Gatsby, starring DiCaprio as the tumultuous titular character, was released. All of my friends and I headed down to the small movie theater in Middletown, Connecticut to watch the film, and afterwards we walked back to campus mesmerized by DiCaprio's perfect portrayal of Jay Gatsby. Earlier that same year, I had bonded with my new hallmates while watching DiCaprio in Shutter Island, the psychological thriller that keeps you guessing until the very end about what is real and what is imagined.

This year, my senior year of college at Wesleyan University, has been filled with many bittersweet moments. As my time here, and my undergraduate education as a whole, comes to a close, I can't help but measure my time in movies. After all, movies have a particularly excellent talent for providing us with a healthy cry or a good laugh exactly when we need it. Like Leonardo DiCaprio, I too have found myself in many different roles over the years. I have known what it feels like to fall deeply in love with someone who is not, according to the rest of the world, the "right one". I have fought against strong currents and tackled great glaciers of problems, too. I have sometimes even felt just as crazy as DiCaprio's character in Shutter Island. And, this final year of college, I have found myself as determined in my resolve to find my place in the world as a man determined in his fight to beat a bear, and just as nostalgic for what has been as the young man who yearned so desperately for a small green light so close and yet so far from reach.

I once had a friend tell me that the greatest part of a kiss is the moment right before your lips touch, when anticipation of what comes next is greatest. The friend continued, arguing that the kiss itself was almost a let-down compared to that instant just before of such possibility and expectation. This moment, following DiCaprio's win, and so near to my own fulfillment of expectation, feels very much like that, too. DiCaprio has just traded in the anticipation of 18 years, 6 nominations, and countless memories made for himself and others, for the success of fulfillment. His instant of anticipation has been replaced by joy and victory, a goal reached. And soon, for me and for everyone else graduating this year, anticipation will also be replaced with joy and victory.

But, as DiCaprio so eloquently added upon accomplishing his goal, there is always something more to do. The final words of DiCaprio's acceptance speech spoke to me, as I'm sure they resonated with so many of us on the precipice of something new:

Let us not take this planet for granted. I do not take tonight for granted.

Our work is never done. We accomplish our goals, but if we become complacent in our successes, we lose sight of all of the progress that still needs to be made. The Oscars highlighted many such issues that need to be addressed, such as the support of sexual assault victims, the necessity for a greater commitment to the recognition of actors and actresses of all races in film, and the issue of climate change. As we saw at the Oscars, the world is filled with much triumph, but there is also a lot of work-in-progress mixed in with that. Practically a lifetime of anticipation can, in an instant, be gone. But just because one chapter is ending doesn't mean there isn't always something more and perhaps even greater to work towards on the horizon. The world is filled with so many possibilities.

Congratulations Leonardo DiCaprio. Thanks for many years of memories, and, more importantly, for the reminder that the end of one dream brings the chance to look ahead to so many more ones.