Students and Staff Celebrate Life and Learning at Final Conference – Grand Valley Lanthorn

GVL / Lauren Seymour

On Feb. 22, students and staff at Grand Valley State University gathered in the multipurpose room at the Mary Idema Pew Library to watch professors Polly Diven and Majd Al-Mallah deliver what may have been the most more meaningful in their lives. These lectures were shared as part of the annual Last Lecture event held at universities across the country.

The final lecture is held annually in honor of Professor Randy Pausch of Carnegie Mellon University, who gave his final lecture a year before he died of cancer. The speech, which came a month after Pausch learned his diagnosis of pancreatic cancer was terminal, focused on celebrating the wonderful life he had lived instead of focusing on death.

“It’s an incredibly inspiring story of someone who decided he wasn’t going to accept that his final months were just going to wallow in the fact that he was going to pass,” Al-Mallah said. “He really made a conscious decision to use every moment to give people advice and wisdom.”

Al-Mallah teaches classes in Arabic language and literature, which were obvious sources of information for his lecture on risk-taking and the common theme of travel found in Arabic poetry.

“I joked with everyone that I had to tell them about camels and Arabic poetry,” Al-Mallah said. “I tried to kind of make a bigger point to tie the importance of taking a risk in our life and in our journey to make meaningful lives and decisions.”

Knowing his audience well, Al-Mallah was able to relate his lecture to the journey that all GVSU students are currently going through.

“The journey part is not really about the camel, but about the poet’s journey with the camel facing difficulties, dangers and tribulations and having learned from this experience,” Al-Mallah said. “Students who study at university essentially go through a similar journey of transition and a journey of becoming.”

Diven’s area of ​​expertise is in international relations and foreign policy. His lecture was divided into three parts which all represent something about his teaching career.

“It was a third of my influences in my life and where my political socialization came from in particular, some of the early parts of my life and how I got interested in politics,” Diven said. “The second part was about how I teach, where my teaching style comes from and the third part was about why I teach what I teach.”

Because Diven’s lecture focused on her own experiences, she ended up learning more about herself by the end of her lecture than she had anticipated.

“It’s the first time I’ve really talked about myself in a speech, so I think it’s very different because you learn more about someone,” Diven said. “I guess the other thing that I find very good is that in preparing for it, you think more. I’ve probably thought a lot more about where some of my political socialization comes from than I never thought of it before.

Al-Mallah and Diven shared similar feelings about what it was like to give their last lecture. They championed the opportunity to teach broader life lessons and share more about themselves with the public. The two professors also highlighted how the experience of speaking at the final conference differs from teaching a course due to the format of the event.

“It was just me giving a lecture, which is usually the case,” Al-Mallah said. “People tend to give a presentation, but all my teaching is discussion-based. It’s a different type of environment where you have a limited amount of time.

Last Lecture is also unique because the speakers are chosen by the students. Diven and Al-Mallah were the two finalists after the Student Senate sent out a survey to members and various social media channels. Planning for the event was spearheaded by Faith Kidd, student and Senate vice president for educational affairs, who said the event was a success this year.

“After planning and attending Last Lecture, I left the library with a big smile on my face, thanked the teachers profusely, and was motivated to take an additional lesson with both of them before leaving GVSU,” Kidd said.

Being able to learn more about the teachers was Diven, Al-Mallah and Kidd’s favorite aspect of Last Lecture. All three said it was the determining factor that made the event worth attending and participating in.

“Students are sometimes afraid of professors or avoid getting to know their instructors,” Kidd said. “The final lecture is great because students can learn about their teachers and laugh and cry through their life stories with them. It is more than a conference or an educational experience. Last Lecture allows us to connect as people.


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