Thursday, March 10, 2011

Big Thirsty. Your Last Lecture. PonyBoy from Palookaville Poses It.

At lunch the other day, my colleagues and I were discussing the "last lecture" phenomenon, most notably the Randy Pausch story.

While none of us is facing the end of our teaching careers - yet - we enjoyed talking about the one last lecture we'd give when it was time.

Q: If you had one last lecture, one last class to give, what would you spend your time on? What would you talk about? What kind of class would you want in front of you, seniors, grad students, freshmen, all the students you never taught right the first time? Would there be tears? Would there be laughter? Would there be gin?

A: Post replies in comments below.


  1. I used a Wizard of Oz movie metaphor in a (non-academic) speech I gave last summer; it was related to Dorothy really being able to go home anytime she wanted to. However, the abstract(?) concept shot past a lot of folks but I think I'd want to try it out again. If I flamed out, so what? It's a last lecture. No one will remember in a hundred years.

    The other necessary thing would be a blatant display and consumption of alcohol. Beer. Tequila. Rounds for all!

  2. I would do what most of my students do, not show up.

  3. I was not retiring, but I did have a day that I knew was my last forever teaching at a certain school. It was nearly a surreal experience because I was just supposed to teach and then go home as if I hadn't just reached a turning point (and it was, I was leaving that position to go into administration at another University).

    That last day of class was meant to be a day when students brought in their final projects (real, physical games that were created in conjunction with a paper) and we displayed them and then reviewed them as groups. In reality, that last day in class turned into somewhat of a party. I brought food, I took pictures, and one student whose game was learning how to play the drums brought in a drum kit and a jazz combo (actually his project was awesome--it was a dvd that taught you to play different drum rhythms that are commonly found in jazz).

    I suppose I could have lectured that day, but instead I celebrated the best thing about that institution with the insanely creative and often underappreciated student body. I let them know how much of a pleasure it was working with them, and that if they could make such amazing projects and write such amazing papers in a sophomore level course all they had to do was keep it up to be successful at whatever they tried at.

    We laughed a lot, I went home, and I started my new job that next day absolutely determined that I would find some way to bring that class or at least its energy to my new students.

    This year I'm on the job market again, and if I do get a position (waiting on offers is a terrible time) I hope that my last day here is similar. Moving on is worthy of a little celebration.

  4. I was a lousy college student, so I'd love to have my last lecture with a bunch of incoming freshmen. I'd like to give them a sense of what they'll miss by not engaging with the process, what they give up by treating their college years so casually.

    Or, I could just skip it, like suggested above. I like that idea, too. The groaning seminar room awaiting me.

    Wait, third option. Could I have Yaro give my lecture instead?

  5. You've reminded me that my last lecture really is coming up in a few weeks time. I know what it's going to be - it'll be a revision class ahead of their exams in a few days time. But you have reminded me that I'd much rather be doing my final class for the bunch of students who are near the ends of their degrees, who turn up without me having to wave carrots or brandish sticks, who appreciate and enjoy the material each week, who are really engaged and do well. I'll have to schedule that class for after the revision class for the bunch of students that contains way too many slackers who should not be taking those degrees, the class that was the last straw.

    No gin. No chocolate. Hopefully they won't find out in advance that I'm going, because it's going to be difficult enough as it is from keeping from bursting into tears.

  6. I'm crazy. This is a crazy person standing in front of you. So the next time you feel inclined to discriminate against someone who is mentally ill? I'd like you to think about your experience in my classes. Think really damn hard. And then don't do it.

    Of course, in order for this to be effective, I'd have to say something utterly profound about the human condition before it, and, uh, past "Americans are obsessed with other people's sex and poop," I got nothing.

  7. ever see the "baseball lecture" that Al Capone gave in the movie "The Untouchables"??

  8. I think I'd give advice more on life in general, rather than academic things. The grandfather character in Little Miss Sunshine had some good sage advice...

  9. My last lecture: I would set the building on fire.

  10. I would give them a class much like the one I do give at the end of my Intro-Astronomy-for-Non-Majors class. The class explores and examines the entire Universe, so I've long felt obliged to say something of merit, at the end.

    The short, take-home message for the course is:

    The Universe may be very, very big, but we can understand it, by careful observation and rational thought.

    You are more than an ape. You are certainly much more than a machine! Act accordingly, with your human facility of reason.

    Insist on independent verification of the facts. Beware of anything based solely on anyone’s say-so. You’re entitled to your opinion. You’re not entitled to make up your own facts.

    If you don’t know the answer, it’s OK to admit you don’t know. This is really the only way to learn anything new. This is especially important whenever dealing with children!

    It’s OK to admit you were wrong, or it should be, as astronomers did with Pluto.

    Beware of anyone who says “it’s just that simple,” or “what could be more clear,” or “it’s just a theory,” or “it’s common sense,” or that they have unique access to “absolute truth.” Much of reality is complex, and requires careful, rational thought.

    “Most people would rather die than think; in fact, they do so… The whole problem with the world is that fools and fanatics are always so certain of themselves, but wiser people so full of doubts.” – Bertrand Russell

    Beware of anyone who says they know it all. I observe that they never do.

    It’s great fun to be able to say this at the end of every term. And I'm not ready to roll over and die just yet, thank you very much.

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  12. David Duchovny did a good rant in "Evolution".


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