John N. Gardner Institute for Excellence in Undergraduate Education

Inspired by Andy Rooney: What Do You See Your Role in Life to Be?

John Gardner
President
Like millions of Americans I watched transfixed as I listened to Andy Rooney doing his final and farewell commentary to and for so many of us. I am so glad I watched. I was moved. If you didn’t see this, well, you really should check out CBS for the text of his piece. 
I don’t know when I have heard such an explicit and poignant statement of what a life is or could be all about. And how one’s life relates to vocation. This would be great to play or assign for beginning college students say in a first-year seminar session on career planning. This man really knows what his life has been all about, what has been his purpose, what have been his sources of gratification. And purpose is so important to all of us no matter what stage of life we are in.
Andy’s piece reminded me of a series we used to offer at USC through our University 101 program, the so-called “Last Lecture Series”. Of course, this idea is not unique at all to my University. But I have no idea if the concept is still in vogue, let alone use anywhere. Idea is very simple: you ask an educator(s) to give his “last lecture.” What would you most want to say to students? What would you want them most to remember, to take away from their experience with you? I remember a beautiful one where one of our most distinguished piano faculty, John Kenneth Adams, performed his last lecture by playing a work of Debussy, to which he added his own verbal commentary.
Anyway, Andy just gave his last lecture. I didn’t need it to have clarity about my own purpose and life’s intent and meaning, but it surely did move me nevertheless. I found him to be the kind of thoughtful, intentionally wise “elder” that I think our students should be exposed to.

And while you are at it, why don’t you give consideration to having your own “last lecture” series and/or delivering one personally. Just the act of deciding what you would say could be worth the investment in the exercise.

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