Last Lecture encourages learning, making difference
Every semester, the Grand Valley State University Student Senate chooses a professor who exemplifies being a “Laker for a Lifetime” — someone who stands out to their students — to deliver his hypothetical last lecture, a concept based on the book by Randy Pausch. This semester, the speaker was professor Brian Riemersma, who teaches in the movement science department.
Riemersma began by thanking all the students, faculty, staff and community for their large impact on his life.
“If I was to say thank you to every student that has affected my life, we’d be here ‘til Tuesday,” he said.
Riemersma then told the audience that everyone needs to open their eyes to the world.
“There’s a world out there and you affect it,” he said. “Far too often our eyes are closed. Open your eyes, open your hearts, open your minds, and let in one idea, maybe two.”
Riemersma shared anecdotes of himself as a teacher, a student, a philosopher, and a futurist. Looking at past cultures can help all of us learn from them and better ourselves, he said. “The questions are limitless and the answers haven’t been decided yet,” he said. “We get to decide our future.”
Riemersma said he didn’t really enjoy school as a child and described himself as “John Bender with a skateboard.”
“I didn’t like to be told that there’s only one way to do things,” he said. “I balked at the norm. School was boring. I snowboarded, skateboarded, had long hair, smoked cigarettes, and, generally speaking, I caused chaos…I never listened. I never understood the impact I had on people, how much trouble I was causing.”
Riemersma added that he didn’t really care for the knowledge he was gaining and didn’t start believing in the power of knowledge until his 20s.
“Students have potential but they have to work at their goals, otherwise it’s just potential,” he said. “Knowledge is the key that opens the doors to our future.”
Riemersma said the cycle of how we learn is this: the more we know, the greater our capacity to learn and understand, thus the more we know.
“Imagine what you as an individual could achieve if you were bettering yourself every moment of every day,” he said. “The desire to be better every day is inside each of us.”
Riemersma discussed the word “arête,” which means working toward excellence and working toward qualities that make up good character. It is to strive for one’s highest potential in all ways of life. “If we have the knowledge and understanding of arête, it gives us the potential to change the world,” he said, adding that every student can impact the world and change lives.
One of the biggest pieces of advice Riemersma gave to the students is to get involved in life, take advantage of everything that GVSU has to offer, and progress and grow as a person. “It is not a passive process, it requires commitment,” he said. “Commit to getting involved in life. Commit to your school, commit to reaching your highest potential, commit to making a better world because you were here.”
New challenges bring forth new opportunities and the chance to overcome obstacles, Riemersma said.
“Don’t sweat the small stuff and appreciate the little things,” he reminded students. “If you fall, get up. There are times we must get up on our own, but this is the most important time to pick yourself back up.”
Riemersma ended his lecture by giving students one last piece of encouragement.
“You are a role model,” he said. “You will change lives. You will be a role model whether you know it or not, so embrace the opportunity to change lives for the better.”