GVSU professors deliver 'Last Lectures' as part of student senate's annual event

By Arpan Lobo and Karina Lloyd | 11/20/17 1:19am

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GVL/Hannah Zajac-- Professor Aaron Baxter of the Biomedical Sciences department gives is "Last Lecture" in Henry Hall on Thursday, 16 Nov 2017.
by Hannah Zajac / The Lanthorn

Grand Valley State University history professor Jim Goode and biomedical sciences professor Aaron Baxter presented their emblematic "Last Lectures" for student senate’s annual event Thursday, Nov. 16, at 8 p.m. in the Loutit Lecture Halls.

The Last Lecture event has been held at universities across the nation, allowing professors to give a lecture as if it were their last. The idea stems from a speech given by Carnegie Mellon University professor Randy Pausch titled “The Last Lecture.” Pausch was suffering from cancer and spoke of focusing on life rather than death. He gave the speech one year before his death. 

Baxter gave a presentation titled “From Farm Boy to Scholar.” Though Baxter is now, as he puts it, “one of the few people you’ll meet who gets overly excited about (bacterial) disease,” his path to becoming the professor that GVSU students know today began at age 13 while he was working on his family’s farm in Idaho. 

In his speech, Baxter focused on the importance of education and how to effectively learn. It was his passion for learning that helped push him to work hard in school. Though he wasn’t always a “naturally gifted student” in high school, he’d study for hours to fully grasp a subject. He found that he loved helping his fellow students understand the topics in his challenging science classes.

“I like learning things,” Baxter said. “I like to figure out how things work. I go well beyond science, and I like to do that. So, as you go through your life, think about that. Develop a passion for learning. Learn new things. Try to do something new every day, and you’ll learn something new.”

Baxter continuously made education a priority through college and graduate school. Having married early, he had his first child during his senior year of college. Though the years ahead were challenging, he did all he could to support his family and continue his education, even if that meant picking up shifts at Wendy’s in between graduate classes and caring for his family. 

“I'm sure all of you in college ... realize there are going to be time(s) that find you and test your commitment,” Baxter said. “But if that’s important to you, you figure out how to do it.”

Baxter shared his wisdom on what has brought him happiness throughout his life, which stemmed from not settling for less and also taking time to serve others. 

“I think service taught me more than anything else,” Baxter said. “When you serve others, you gain a greater perspective.”

The main message behind his speech, “keep learning, work hard, serve others and then have fun,” is something many GVSU students can try to incorporate into their lives.

“To be successful, you have to incorporate these things into your life,” Baxter said. “Life doesn’t come easily. It is going to revolve around education, hard work, serving others, (and) that’s what’s going to make things successful. That’s what is going to change things. If you want to see something change, you're going to have to work for it.”

Goode’s presentation was titled “An Innocent Abroad: The Seasoning of Jim Goode.” Goode, who is retiring after this semester having taught at GVSU since 1986, spent 10 years outside the U.S. He joined the Peace Corps after college and was in Iran from 1968-1973. After spending time in Iran, he lived in Australia for five more years before finally moving back to the U.S. in 1978. Goode told students how impactful the decade abroad was on his life and career.

“I didn’t realize how important that time would be in my life,” he said. 

While in Iran, Goode met his wife, Virginia, and made several other meaningful relationships. Throughout his lecture, he told students to appreciate other cultures even if they didn’t have much knowledge of them. 

Goode described himself as an “Iranophile in a time of Iranophobia.” Immersing himself in Iranian culture, Goode gained a firsthand perspective of a part of the world that is becoming increasingly feared in American culture. But Goode, who was in Iran as a teacher through the Peace Corps, remains grateful for the people he met during his time in the country.

“I think my contribution was small compared to those who took me in,” he said. 

In his teaching, Goode learned how important field trips could be for students. Even this semester, Goode took a group of students to Dearborn, Michigan, the Arab-American capital of the U.S. Goode wishes that field trips were a more instrumental part of college curricula. 

Goode, who has led study-abroad trips to Egypt, Morocco and Turkey, closed his lecture by urging students to immerse themselves in another culture as he did. 

“Do all you can to gain experience in a culture other than your own,” he said. “I pass on this exciting challenge to you: Who can make it happen when I am but a memory?”

In his retirement, Goode plans to work on several projects. He and Virginia are planning to write a memoir based on their time in Iran. The thing he will miss most about being an educator happens to be those he educates.

“You guys (students) create a culture,” he said.

Goode left attendees with a final message of embracing the challenge of appreciating other cultures.

“It can be so rewarding," he said. "There’s going to be a time where you question and doubt it, but you need to look toward the end of the rainbow.”

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