The Last Lecture

The Last Lecture Monday evening, December 15, 2014 I was staring into the vast, empty and quiet room when five Chinese students returned to the scene of the final exam so that a picture could be taken with their teacher, as a souvenir for them as well as for me. Indeed a touching moment of transition to a new chapter. This all-too-brief career of eight years could have started over forty years ago, were it not for a stint in the dynamic world of international business. The end came fittingly in the form of a final exam… how else do I know and how else does a student know what he or she retained about the subject of our semester’s study? When all 66 students had handed in their exam papers and left the room, my body simply could not gear up to depart. A strange sadness swooped down on me in MTAC 146, the largest of the class rooms in one of the newest buildings of the university. There was no faculty committee bidding me farewell, no invitation to hold a “last lecture”, an honor not accorded Adjunct Professors. An unremarkable, imperceptible exit, a slow-motion ending as if to deny or even reverse the inevitable.  As if by habit, I addressed the three sections, a mix of American and Asian students, who only weeks ago were negotiating an international deal across the simulation table in that same auditorium. I frequently would exhort them to remember something useful from this course, if only in the form of catchy phrases bearing weighty meanings intended to prepare MBA candidates for a masterly future in the often-brutal world of business. During the 2-hour exam I had started to read a book about “The Strangeness of the French People”, presumably a counterpoint to “American Exceptionalism”.  In it Philippe d’Iribarne explains the “value differences” between the French people and other nationalities, particularly Americans. I had just been asked that question by acquaintances who expect me to have the answer to their obsession about the French and their perceived unfriendly demeanor to foreigners: “why do they hate us so?” But my concentration was derailed by the eerie silence, i.e. the silence in the academic setting …. No students to address, no students to ask clarifications of the reading assignment, no reminders to dole out. Did I not really want to have this end? Did I resign prematurely, having just told the students about my cancer diagnosis, which, according to my doctor,” is no reason to retire”. I thought:  could such a short career mean that much to me that emotions would fill my tear ducts? Alas, it was not a lifelong pursuit; perhaps I regret having stayed in the business world beyond my original intended period of two years….. “But you silly”, I reasoned with myself, “those 32 years prepared you to teach the lessons you have learned – learned first-hand”. “No, nothing to regret. No, no regrets,” as those famous Edith Piaf lyrics bounced into my head. I gave back to the younger generation the benefits of my experience. And they did listen, accepting the science such as it is at the moment.  Yet, the one truth that they seem reluctant to accept from the science of cultural anthropology,  is the fact that generational change in values is marginal, when intuitively it seems the opposite to them. Even Asian students who live in a collectivist value system that highly respects tradition and group-think, seem skeptical, perhaps wishing for major changes… The night-time silence of the evening witnessed a scene staged by that small group of Chinese students armed with their cameras, grabbing one last souvenir. Emotion almost overcame me; the urge to hug them all imposed itself on my being. I shook their hands as if we found ourselves in a serious farewell, and wished all of them well. I dearly look forward to receiving copies of those pics, pics of my last class… pics that will be stored next to those of my first class, and of the in-between classes. I loved all my classes. I will miss them all. 679 words

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2 thoughts on “The Last Lecture

  1. Reading your farewell comments, i got a lump in my throat. It’s sad that you had to do what you had to do…..I wish you comfort and satisfaction in life……. in the years to come. .

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