Susan Greenfield's "Last Lecture"

ON SEVERAL COLLEGE CAMPUSES students annually elect a faculty member to give what is eerily known as a “last lecture.” The genre, as the late Randy Pausch puts it in his book with the same title, encourages professors “to consider their demise and to ruminate on what matters most to them […] What wisdom would we impart to the world if we knew it was our last chance? If we had to vanish tomorrow, what would we want as our legacy?” When Pausch gave his last lecture at Carnegie Mellon in 2008, he was dying of pancreatic cancer and the 400 audience members knew it. This poignant timing was, however, merely coincidental. You don’t have to be fatally ill to give a last lecture.

Nevertheless, when Fordham English Professor Susan Greenfield learned that the 30 or so graduating students in Rose Hill's Honors Program had elected her to give their 2014 Last Lecture, her reaction was mixed. "I love the students," she writes, "and, as someone who never had a prayer of becoming a high school prom queen, I was pleased by my sudden middle-age popularity. But I didn’t relish the idea of imagining my doom, nor was I happy to know that the students were happily anticipating it." Still, she immediately said “yes” to the invitation. The result was recently published by the Los Angeles Review of Books under the title "The Virtue of Uncertainty"  Here it is