Twenty-five years ago I was asked to deliver a Last Lecture as part of a Student Entertainment and Lecture Fund program at Ouachita. As a thirty-five year old, I was a bit perplexed at the prospect of preparing a last lecture. Egad, why would a thirty-five year old professor be delivering a last lecture? Several thoughts went through my mind. One might be disenchanted with educational institutions; one’s health might be in decline; one might have developed personal or philosophical differences with the administration that require relocation; the list goes on. Now, I am sixty, a last lecture has more meaning, although even now, my retirement is not imminent. In part, I offer this qualifying comment because of the ribbing my colleagues have been giving me since Susan’s email last Monday announcing the last lecture.
The main value in delivering such a lecture twenty-five years ago and delivering one again now is the soul-searching that one does as one distills the variety of experiences to determine the few major themes that define who one is, what one values most, and what legacy one would like to leave. Numerous topics came to mind, ones that would be fun to prepare and deliver – the molecular basis of good and evil, the importance of diversity, the balance between tolerance and intolerance, where would we be without Darwin, would God be pleased with the box we’ve put Him in, society as organism, the importance of passion, let’s get on with stem cell research … the list goes on. Reflection is fun! Over the months of reflecting, I kept coming back to the theme that has defined my journey here at Ouachita – the importance of the liberal arts education. It’s personal, it’s professional, and it’s the essence of what I am and what I value.
Jeffers, Joe, "Science, Aesthetics, and the Liberal Arts Tradition" (2005). Presentations and Lectures. 11.