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 Honors awardee
Middle and High SchoolLanguage Arts, Social Studies, Citizen Honors

One or Two Class Sessions

Citizen Honors Focus: Rick Rescorla

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, 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’ selections, the teacher or a student will read Rudyard Kipling’s poem “If” aloud.

Whole Group Activity:
Students will watch the video about Rick Rescorla and his actions on September 11, 2001. While watching the video, 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 video, the teacher will divide students into small groups and give each group a different stanza from the poem. Each group will respond to the following:

  • Identify the character traits an adult 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. Individually, students will write an essay that makes connections between Rick Rescorla’s video and the poem.

Stanza presentation, class discussion, essay

Rick Rescorla video
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:
Students will discuss the role of integrity in the poem and in Rick Rescorla’s story.

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.

Rewrite Kipling’s poem addressed from a mother to a daughter. Would the message change? Why or why not?