The Last Lecture

Today I will give my final lecture at Augustana. After 16 years, it is time to move on. I am not the same person who began teaching 16 years ago nor is Augustana the same institution it was 16 years ago. This is neither good nor bad. Change happens.

In recent weeks, I have thought a lot about my final semester and my final days as a professor. Last night I watched much of Randy Pausch’s last lecture.  (I watched the entire short version (here is the short version) At a minimum, you should watch the short version (10 minutes). If you are curious, you would watch the long version (approximately 85 minutes).

In class today, I will talk about intellectual property and criminal law. I will talk about the value of brand and ideas. It won’t be perfect but there were a few stories. I hope the students learn. I have always hoped they learned.

Yet I don’t want my last lecture to be about Cody the Cow. I wanted my last words at Augie to be more. Though I wasn’t asked to give the last lecture, I prepared one anyway.  I might even record it and put it up. I give this last lecture to and for my students, my colleagues, and anyone else who cares to listen. My title is “Believe, Be Curious, and Let It Be.

So please imagine I was delivering this lecture to all of my students in person.

Thank you for coming to my last lecture. I hope you enjoy it and take something away from it. To my students, you have taught me more than you will ever know. You have taught me patience, humility, clarity, compassion, and gratitude. You have taught me to ask questions before jumping to conclusions. You taught to me think the best of people. I have not been perfect and made mistakes. I have tried to hold you accountable while showing compassion.

I hope that I have taught you something in our time together. Mostly, I hope I taught you to believe.  Believe in yourself. Believe in others. Believe in your dreams. Believe you can be better and do more. I know life is tiring and you will need to rest. Rest if you must but don’t stop believing. If you could just believe in yourself as much as I believe in you – Oh, the places you will go and the things you will do. You have no idea what you are capable of achieving unless you believe.

Think about it for a moment. If I can graduate from law school, pass the bar exam, argue a case before the South Dakota Supreme Court two years after law school graduation, become a college professor, lose 60 pounds in 4 months, and walk at least 10,000 steps every day for over two years, you can do anything.

So, do us all a favor and set your goals high and work towards them every day. Believe you can do it and go for it. I believe you can do it.  Do you?

Next, I want you to be curious. Ever spent any time with a 6-year-old? Many six-year-olds are curious. They are constantly asking questions. They want to learn for the sake of learning. They aren’t angling for a grade, a job, a promotion, a raise, or fame. They just want to know!

As an undergraduate student, I was not very curious. Like many of you, I took classes to check a box as a requirement for graduation. I simply wanted to pass the class and move on. I didn’t give much thought to why the class was required or how it could help me in life. Just give me my C and move on because Cs get degrees!

I wish I would have taken the time to think about things and be curious. Ask questions. Look for solutions to the hard problems. Listen to others. What you can learn by just listening. Read books for fun. Travel frequently and to new places. Explore where you live. Find Walt Disney’s signature on the Augie campus and tell others to do the same.

Please spend part of each day growing your mind and learning something new. Read an article in a newspaper, magazine, or website. Read a chapter in a book.  Listen to a podcast or take a MOOC. Talk to an “expert.”  Ask questions. Explore nature.

Change and innovation happen through curiosity (along with hard work, luck, and failure). Innovation happens when a curious person asks, “Is there a better way to build a mousetrap?”, “Do we need a mousetrap?”, or “Perhaps mice are beneficial and shouldn’t be trapped?” Questions are powerful. Curiosity is powerful. You are powerful. Use your power for good.

Finally, accept things for what they are. One of my favorite Beatles songs is “Let It Be.” The melody is simple yet wonderful. The lyrics provide one of life’s best lessons. 

Here is a verse – And in my hour of darkness, She is standing right in front of me, Speaking words of wisdom, Let it be.

In life, there are challenges.  There are moments, days, weeks, and months that do not go your way. This is part of life. Most of this will not be within your control. But roll with the punches. Get knocked down 7 times and get up 8. Keep moving forward.

There is very little in life you can control. You can control what you eat, drink, and wear (with some limitations). Mostly, you can control your thoughts and reactions.  Beyond that, it is out of your control. So, whatever happens, don’t label it good or bad – just let it be.

To those that have been a part of this journey over the last 16+ years, from the bottom of my heart thank you. You have all given me more than I could have imagined. While I am sad that I am leaving, I am so excited about my next chapter. Life is an adventure and a journey. Enjoy the ride.