This article is from the archives of the UB Reporter.

Words of wisdom

McGuire delivers ‘last lecture’ to students

Classicist Don McGuire was the inaugural speaker in the UB Mortar Board Society’s Last Lecture Series. Photo: THE SPECTRUM

  • “How do you find the moment in the past?”

    Don McGuire
    Associate Professor, Department of Classics

Published: Dec. 6, 2012

One hour was all Donald McGuire was given to deliver his last lecture to his students, a short time to impart any message to the next generation to lead the nation.

No, McGuire, an associate professor in the Department of Classics, was not retiring from the classroom due to poor health or to spend more time with his family. In fact, he plans to teach at UB for many more years.

His hour marked the beginning of the Last Lecture Series, a series of lectures designed to provide UB professors with the opportunity to leave their legacy behind and deliver a valuable message to students, faculty and staff.

McGuire’s message consisted of three simple words: moment, sandwiches and curiosity.

McGuire’s lecture on Nov. 28 was the inaugural talk in the series at UB. The series was organized by the UB LAUNCH chapter of the Mortar Board College Senior Honor Society, a national honor society that recognizes college seniors for their achievements in academics, leadership and service.

The idea of giving a “last lecture” began in 2007 with Randolph “Randy” Pausch, a professor of computer science at Carnegie Mellon University. After Pausch was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer and given only six months of good health, he gave a moving last lecture to Carnegie Mellon students that inspired the country. The last lecture has lived on at other institutions, and made its way to UB this fall.

Faculty lecturers for the UB series are chosen by Mortar Board students, who base their decisions on a candidate’s ability to be entertaining, passionate and, most importantly, inspiring.

The students then provide the lecturer with a single question: “If this were your last time to address a group of intellectual students, what would you say to them?”

With that in mind, McGuire decided to focus his speech on the word “moment.”

“I teach a course where I cover history from the dawn of time up to 1500 in the course of 15 weeks. I cover the Paleolithic era, which goes from about a million B.C. down to 10,000 B.C.,” McGuire said. “I do that in 30 minutes.”

“How do you find the moment in the past?”

The moment McGuire referred to is the pivotal point in history when the lives and attitudes of people change. He explained that everyone tries to connect with these past moments through various means, such as pictures, family heirlooms or relics. It is one of his jobs as a faculty member to get students to savor those connections, he said.

He even shared one of his own career-defining moments. While in graduate school at Cornell University, McGuire was invited to excavate in Sardis, Turkey. He and his colleagues discovered the remains of a battle between Lydia and Persia that occurred in 550 B.C. Digging around Sardis’ trenches and exposing the city walls to the daylight of the 20th century was, he said, his connection with the past.

“This was our moment, engaging with the ancient moments,” McGuire said. “You don’t have to be a historian or archaeologist to find the moment where you’re clicking with your discipline.”

Moment was not the only word McGuire left the audience with. He told a story about the Benedictine monk who married him and his wife; the monk gave them the word “humility” as a term to base their marriage on. Inspired by the monk, McGuire gave students two additional words to reflect on.

The first was “sandwiches.” McGuire took this suggestion from the late musician Warren Zevon, who advised people to enjoy the sandwiches they eat. McGuire added that students should not take life for granted and cherish their experiences.

The last word McGuire provided students was “curiosity.”

“It drives us all. It certainly drives me in my academic life, private life, and it’s the source of all my fun and engagement over the last few decades. And the fact that you’re here, I think it drives you all as well,” McGuire said.

“It’s a great word and it’s also a great virtue. It’s not seen enough as one of the great virtues, but it should be. So practice curiosity.”

Reader Comments

Kerrie Martin says:

"McGuire’s message consisted of three simple words: moment, SANDWICHES, and curiosity..."

Well, my curiosity is P[B & J]-iqued !

Posted by Kerrie Martin, But what about the sandwiches?!?!?! (:O), 12/07/12