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McKenna to give first ‘Last Lecture’

Tess Civantos | Monday, November 10, 2008

Professor James McKenna will be the first in a series of four Notre Dame professors to deliver a “Last Lecture,” in which he shares the most important lessons he has learned.

McKenna, the Rev. Edmund P. Joyce, C.S.C., Chair of Anthropology, will deliver a lecture on Wednesday at 8:00 p.m. in the Coleman-Morse Lounge.

He taught at both Ponoma College in California and the University of California at Berkeley prior to teaching at Notre Dame, according to a University press release from 2001, when he was awarded the Rev. Edmund P. Joyce, C.S.C., Chair of Anthropology.

McKenna was also a recipient of the Thomas Madden Teaching Award for outstanding instruction of first-year students in 2000, according to the press release.

According to the website of the Office of the Provost, “It is presented annually to that member of the faculty who, in the opinion of a committee of former Madden Award winners, contributed most to the teaching of first-year students. Nominations are submitted by first-year students and first-year counselors.”

In 2000, McKenna was also awarded the Kaneb Teaching Award for exceptional teaching of undergraduates, according to the University press release.

His lecture will be delivered in the style of Professor Randy Pausch of Carnegie Mellon University.

When Pausch discovered he was dying of pancreatic cancer, he delivered a “last lecture.”

The lecture, also published as a book, became a worldwide sensation and generated interest in the “last lecture” practice.

The Last Lecture series is not new to Notre Dame. Notre Dame featured a previous Last Lecture series in 2002.

The current series was part of the campaign platform for student body president Bob Reish and student body vice president Grant Schmidt.

“We partly modeled our series off of the 2002 series,” Schmidt said. “A lot of people know the story of Randy Pausch, and the concept of a last lecture was really interesting,”

The Last Lectures will go beyond sharing a theory or idea, he said.

“This is a very unique lecture. It’s more of a professor’s vision. It carries a deeper meaning,” Schmidt said. “It’s an informal way of talking about his career, discussing relationships.”

These lectures will be presented in a similar manner as Pausch’s lecture was.

“It’s his last opportunity to really convey one message to students,” Schmidt said.

The lectures will be more casual and conversational than a class lecture, he said.

“It’s more off-the cuff,” Schmidt said. “It’s a personal, interactive, fireside lecture.”

The series will continue throughout the school year.

“We’ll probably do about four of these,” Schmidt said.

Reish’s and Schmidt’s Web site, bobandgrant.com, includes a description of the Last Lecture series as they envisioned it while running for office.

“Think of your favorite professor or those professors your friends constantly claim are amazing. Think of those professors whose classes are extremely entertaining and you’re only lucky to get into if you have a great DART time,” the Web site said. “Now imagine getting these teachers into a classroom and telling them they only have one more lecture. What would they say? This is the exact premise of our proposed Last Lecture Series – bringing prominent ND professors into the classroom to talk about whatever they would say if it were their last lecture.”