“It’s okay to do C work,” proclaimed Professor Ed Hums during his installment of Notre Dame’s “The Last Lecture Series.” Though the audience of curious students, professors, and other Notre Dame staff members laughed at this suggestion, Professor Hums defied the usual negative attitude toward mediocrity as he discussed the holistic journey Notre Dame offers each student. “You got into Notre Dame and the most important thing is getting through it, and you will do this,” he said.
“The Last Lecture Series” is a student-government sponsored program that gives long-standing Notre Dame professors the chance to share fundamental pieces of wisdom, beauty, and joy they have acquired and experienced during their academic careers. The program is based on “The Last Lecture,” given by Carnegie Mellon University professor Randy Pausch before his death from pancreatic cancer.
Professor Hums, a faculty member of Mendoza College of Business for 8 years and a member of the Notre Dame community for 26 years, concentrated his last lecture on the biblical story of the road to Emmaus. The passage describes the journey of two of Christ’s followers to Emmaus a few weeks after His death. The travelers embark with disheartened spirits and along the way encounter the risen Christ, though they do not recognize Him in their depressed and doubtful states.
Professor Hums explained that the passage has always intrigued and challenged him. “We could be walking on the path with the risen savior and not know it,” he said, calling on every audience member to realize and learn who he or she is walking with on the path of life. Our path, said Professor Hums, includes the events and people of our lives. It includes the journey we undertake at Notre Dame, the people we meet, and what we learn from our university education.
For Notre Dame students, Professor Hums suggested, an important part of walking this path is taking advantage of the “three P’s”: parents, priests, and professors. We should not underestimate our parents’ love for us, said Professor Hums, and we should all reciprocate it. We should also appreciate the priests and professors in our community. Professor Hums challenged every student to, “pick out one professor every semester and get to know him or her.”
Professor Hums also emphasized that there is “nothing wrong with stupid things,” because students learn from them. Professor Hums’s own little failures, such as getting a D in calculus class or failing the CPA during his first attempt, helped him discover his interests and dedicate himself to them. Learning from mistakes reminds us to enjoy our journey toward our final destination.
Finally, Professor Hums said that students should have fun during their journey through life, both at Notre Dame and elsewhere. The classroom, Professor Hums asserted, should have, “a relaxed atmosphere,” where “you can learn, but also have fun.” For this reason, he encouraged students to never leave an unknown answer blank on an exam, but instead draw a picture.
The audience erupted in laughter and applause when Professor Hums explained, “Ten years from now, you’ll never remember one question on one exam, but you’ll always remember what you drew.” It is not a student’s grades that define the journey, but the whole savored experience of being part of the university.
Professor Hums sought to help the audience members envision their own personal paths as “the road to Emmaus.” By doing so, students come to realize the direction of their path and their comrades on the journey.
In the story of Emmaus, the disgruntled travelers focused only on reaching the end of their journey; they never realized that the risen Christ accompanied them along the way. “Look at who around you needs to be consoled,” said Professor Hums, “who needs to be understood, who needs to be forgiven today. Look and figure out who is walking with you.”
Anna Powers is a freshman biology major who would love to live in a world made up of scenes from Robert Frost’s poems. She can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org