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Professor offers advice in ‘Last Lecture’ series

| Tuesday, March 31, 2015

The Last Lecture series kicked off on Monday evening in Washington Hall with a talk by Maria McKenna, senior associate director of the Education, Schooling and Society minor. McKenna is also an associate professional specialist in the Department of Africana Studies. Sponsored by the academic affairs department of student government, the series asks student-nominated professors, “What wisdom would you try to impart to the world if you knew it was your last chance?”

McKenna said she prepared her lecture by thinking about what she would want to say if she were giving a final speech to her four children.

“If the only people who were in this room were my four kids, what would I want them to know?” McKenna said.

She then began her speech by reading off a list of quotes and advice from her family and friends whom she asked for help in preparing her lecture. Although the content of each piece of advice differed, McKenna said she found a common theme of “keeping it real” and staying honest to yourself and those around you. She said she realized the importance of this maxim from an early age and throughout the rest of her life.

McKenna said she assumed an incredible amount of responsibility in her family at an early age and was afraid to communicate her fears and insecurities to her parents. Ultimately, she was able to find a way to be honest with them and find peace. Even still, McKenna said relationships and life in general are inevitably messy despite what the culture around us says.

“The world we live in tells us we have to look put-together,” McKenna said.

McKenna said she is able to find happiness in the messiness and imperfection in her life, whether they be a massive pile of dirty laundry or commitments to taking care of others.

“The faster we come to realize things are messy, the sooner we will be happy,” McKenna said.

According to McKenna, everyone has many identities in life — from roles as family members and friends to jobs and duties — but individuals must not compartmentalize everything they do and risk losing their integrity.

“Don’t confuse what you do with who you are,” McKenna said.

McKenna said relationships are essential to finding stability in life, citing the support of her husband. When she was plagued with anxiety and considering suicide, McKenna said her husband saved her from despair and made sure she recovered. She said the honesty in their relationship was the basis for everything they accomplished.

“You can’t be afraid of telling the truth in relationships,” McKenna said.

McKenna quoted former Notre Dame professor Carol McLeod, wife of former Notre Dame basketball coach John MacLeod, who said relationships are a “90/10 deal and not a 50/50 one” and in order to have a successful relationship, you have to be willing to be on both sides of the split.

Concluding her lecture, McKenna said when she finally dies, she hopes that people will remember her integrity and her willingness to give her all in whatever she did.

 

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