Kipling’s “IF” and Graduate School.


When I excitedly signed up for my last graduate school class for my M.Ed in Educational Leadership 14 years ago, I knew that the class would be Education Law. I also knew that there were three or four professors who typically taught the course. I had heard “through the grapevine” that one of the professors had a different expectation for passing the class…a very different expectation.

As luck would have it, the poem professor was teaching the class on the only two nights that I could attend. It would be a tough course after teaching my own class all day. And then we heard the requirements:

Education Law: Yes, most likely your last graduate school class. Congratulations!

Tuesday/Thursday: 5:30 pm-8:30 pm

Number One Course Requirement: Memorize Rudyard Kipling’s poem title IF.

Number Two Course Requirement: Give a presentation of the poem IF by Rudyard Kipling to our entire class. Memorize the poem. Stand up and be proud. Speak every word of the poem. No notes allowed. We want to clearly hear the SOUND of your voice.

Number Three Course Requirement: Your presentation will take place during the last class meeting of the semester. Your grade and exit from this class depends on this poem.

Number Four Course Requirement: Read all assignments from the textbook. Take all exams. Sit down in your seat immediately upon arrival. Show up for every class meeting.

Number Five Course Requirement: Do the best that you can. Be the best that you can. You are part of the future of education. You will hopefully be leaders in a school. Our children are counting on you.



 None of the 24 decidedly adult class members had recited a poem since high school. We could talk all day to the students in our classrooms. We were totally petrified of saying a poem out loud to the entire class. We were so relieved that ours was a small class. I was most certainly familiar with Rudyard Kipling’s poem titled IF. Actually, the poem would rank at the top of my poem list…should I put together a poem list. I doubt that I would bother to rank poems since I care so deeply about many other poems such as…

The Road Not Taken by Robert Frost

Trees by Joyce Kilmer

Caged Bird by Maya Angelou

Stopping By Woods On A Snowy Evening by Robert Frost

Where the Sidewalk Ends by Shel Silverstein

Our professor considered IF to be the most important group of words every written. If we lived our life by the poem, he thought that we would undoubtedly have greater success. In addition…we would be better examples for the students in our schools. We were told that the women in the class could change the words if needed to…“You’ll be a Woman, my daughter”! Two of the five women in our class did indeed change the words. I just left the words as Kipling wrote them. I did not want to risk changing the words and making Kipling unhappy. Sort of silly…I know!

After hearing every person in our class flawlessly recite the words to IF…we all believed that our professor was right in his assessment of the poem.

The words are truly profound!


7 thoughts on “Kipling’s “IF” and Graduate School.

  1. You should have crossed up the professor and memorized “Gunga Din”. ‘But sir’ you say, ‘getting some of those kids to learn is a constant battle – and I’ll need plenty of water!’ I’m sure he would have been impressed by your logic…right before giving you a failing grade. Oh well, Pyrrhic victories are still victories, right?

    I myself would have gone with the only poem I ever managed to memorize. “There once was a man from Nantucket….”

    I’m not sure that would have fared any better, though.


    Liked by 1 person

    • If you do memorize it…is your husband going to be your audience? Perhaps you should invite your friends to come over for a Potluck and Poem night! A video is a must! Seriously…it is a wonderful poem, but I thought that it was very difficult to memorize! I honestly worried about that poem for the entire four months or so of the semester. I even practiced saying the poem to my own class at school…third graders! They thought my entire performance was the funniest thing that they had ever seen or heard! It was like I was a comedian on a late night show!


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