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Be True to Oneself

Suggested Level

Suggested Applications

Middle and High School English, Language Arts, Social Studies

Students will:
• Analyze and interpret the poem If written by Rudyard Kipling.
• Understand the theme(s) of the poem.
• Analyze thematic links between this poem and the life and actions of Rick Rescorla
• Identify and define which character values in the poem could apply to a Citizen Service Before Self Honoree.

Citizen Service Before Self Honoree Focus:
 Rick Rescorla, Vice President / Director of Security, Morgan Stanley,  New York, New York

For the Teacher:
Rudyard Kipling’s poem If was personally meaningful to Rick Rescorla, Vice President / Director of Security
at Morgan Stanley Dean Witter & Company, South Tower, World Trade Center, in New York City.

According to Kipling in his autobiography Something of Myself, posthumously published in 1937, the poem
was inspired by Dr. Leander Starr Jameson. In 1895 Dr. Jameson led a raid by British forces against the
Boers in South Africa, subsequently called the Jameson Raid. This defeat increased the tensions that
ultimately led to the Second Boer War. Dr. Jameson and his connection to the poem is the focus of the book,
The If Man, by Chris Ash.

Introductory Activity:
The teacher will ask students to think of a quotation, book, or poem that may have inspired them. After a
brief discussion about the students’ inspirational poem, book, or quotation, the teacher or a student will
read Rudyard Kipling’s poem, If, aloud.

(Example of another inspiring quotation: “Neither a borrower nor a lender be, For loan oft loses both itself and
friend, And borrowing dulls the edge of husbandry.” ---William Shakespeare, Hamlet, Act 1, Scene 3, 75–77)

Whole Group Activity:
Students will watch the vignette about Rick Rescorla and his actions on September 11, 2001. While watching
the vignette, students will look for examples of how the poem If applies to Rick Rescorla. Students will write
their connections for further discussion.

Small Group Activity:
After viewing the vignette, the teacher will divide students into small groups and give each group a different
stanza from the poem, If. Each group will summarize responses to the following:

• Identify the character traits a grown man must have according to the poem
• Identify the central theme of the assigned stanza
• Relate the character values in the assigned stanza to Rick Rescorla’s actions
• Explain why the advice in the poem is relevant today

Each group will prepare to present and explain the written findings to the whole class.

Whole Group Activity:
Each group will explain the findings to the whole class.

Concluding Activity:
Students will explore why they think the advice given in the poem has proven to be so timeless and relevant
today. Individually, students will write an essay that makes connections between the inspirational vignette
about Rick Rescorla, the motivational poem, and its relevance today.

Stanza presentation, class discussion, essay

Citizen Honors

Stewart, James B. Heart of a Soldier. New York: Simon & Schuster, 2002.
Ash, Chris. The IF Man: Dr. Leander Starr Jameson, the Inspiration for Kipling's Masterpiece. West Midlands,
   England: Helion & Company Limited, 2012.
Kipling, Rudyard. Something of Myself. New York: Cambridge University Press, 1990.

Extended Activity:
According to the Internet resource, If is a poem of condition, a “how-to-be poem” that is built
with conditional clauses. The teacher will tell students that an adverb clause is a subordinate clause that
modifies a verb, an adjective, or another adverb. Adverb clauses are introduced by subordinate conjunctions
such as after, although, as if, because, before, even though, if, once, unless, until, whenever, and while. The
teacher will also review the punctuation of adverb clauses in the poem.

Students will read the Rudyard Kipling poem, If, to recognize adverb clauses and how they are punctuated.

When students are familiar with adverb clauses, they may create their own If poem.


If by Rudyard Kipling
If you can keep your head when all about you
Are losing theirs and blaming it on you;
If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you,
But make allowance for their doubting too;
If you can wait and not be tired by waiting,
Or being lied about, don’t deal in lies,
Or being hated don’t give way to hating,
And yet don’t look too good, nor talk too wise:
If you can dream—and not make dreams your master;
If you can think—and not make thoughts your aim;
If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster
And treat those two impostors just the same;
If you can bear to hear the truth you’ve spoken
Twisted by knaves to make a trap for fools,
Or watch the things you gave your life to, broken,
And stoop and build ’em up with worn-out tools:

If you can make one heap of all your winnings
And risk it on one turn of pitch-and-toss,
And lose, and start again at your beginnings
And never breathe a word about your loss;
If you can force your heart and nerve and sinew
To serve your turn long after they are gone,
And so hold on when there is nothing in you
Except the Will which says to them: ‘Hold on!’
If you can talk with crowds and keep your virtue,
Or walk with Kings—nor lose the common touch,
If neither foes nor loving friends can hurt you,
If all men count with you, but none too much;
If you can fill the unforgiving minute
With sixty seconds’ worth of distance run,
Yours is the Earth and everything that’s in it,
And—which is more—you’ll be a man, my son!

Citizen Honors - Rick Rescorla