I have the extraordinary of gift of sitting with my father in hospice this week. His (beautiful) heart is failing, but his mind is still sharp, and his spirit is completely at peace. The following is his last lecture as a professor (to his graduate seminar in Business Ethics)
It gives me great joy to share it with you.
Retiring is a little like having your first child. There is nothing particularly unique about the exercise except it is a first time experience that requires no specific skills or expertise and arrives with an unknown outcome .
The initial inclination while preparing comments for a last class is to draw from all the literature and all of one’s experiences to craft some statement filled with lasting words capable of shaping the hearts and minds of students for their remaining years.
Shortly after entertaining such a prospect, it became immediately apparent that teaching has taught me that that while the words may be forthcoming, the impact is not likely to be so resounding. Given that reality, the best course of action is to make a few short comments and say good-bye.
The closing line from Stephen Sondheim’s song “Send in the Clowns” came to mind. “Isn’t it rich, isn’t it queer, losing my timing so late in my career.”
In these last few minutes of the last organized university class that I will teach, I would like to suggest to each of you:
Define what is important to you. Attempt to determine what you are worshiping, because without that understanding, you are adrift and likely to be pushed ever-which-way.
Come to terms with the finite and the infinite dimensions of your being. Until you come to terms with the end of your existence, you will find living in the present to be difficult.
Cultivate the disciplines necessary to contend with the vagaries of the world around you. Perhaps the most important are the disciplines of the mind and of the spirit. The first step is often that of finding a quiet place to meditate and contemplate.
Learn the significance of uncertainty, choosing, and evaluating and then celebrate them. The definition of who you are is largely a product of the questions you ask and the choices you make. It is difficult to learn that the choices made today are the offspring of choices made yesterday.
Experience the joy of thanksgiving. Recognize that joy and hope are rooted in faith in the belief that what you have and what you are is a gift. As much as possible expunge the demons of comparison and competition and accept that sweeping out the harpies circling round the “enthroned self” never ends.
But then how does one end a last class in ethics except to recall that ethics is obedience to the unenforceable; a product of what you ask of yourself and not what others ask of you.
And finally, do whatever is right.