The first ‘last lecture’

A USF professor will have the chance to leave his final wisdom behind for one last lecture – only hypothetically.

Professor Johnny El-Rady will participate in the first USF “Last Lecture” series tonight at 7 in the Marshall Student Center’s Oval Theater, where he’ll address students, colleagues, close friends and family with a mock final presentation.

The idea of a “Last Lecture” was made popular by Randy Pausch, a professor who toured the country giving his speech “Really Achieving Your Childhood Dreams” after he was diagnosed with terminal cancer.

El-Rady, 42, has titled his lecture, “Thugs, Bugs and Augs: Chasing Ever-Changing Dreams.” The department of Housing and Residential Education hopes this will be a continuing series.

El-Rady, who has life experience on four different continents, talked with The Oracle before his “final lecture.”

The Oracle: What were your feelings about the “Last Lecture” series before being nominated to deliver one yourself?
Johnny El-Rady: I’ve been familiar with it, and I had seen Randy Pausch’s talk on YouTube.

I know there are some professors that it’s part of their course … in their course they deliver their last lecture to their students. If you think about it … it’s very appealing. The only problem is that with professor Pausch’s extremely humbling and witty and great talk … we’re all going to pale in comparison.

O: How did it feel to know you had been chosen by USF students to deliver a “last lecture?”
JE: That’s really tough, especially to give a talk midway through your career that’s called “The Last Lecture,” but it’s very humbling to learn that there’s at least some people on campus, some students, who think you’re worthy of such a distinction.

I was joking when I found out, I was shocked and I immediately demanded a recount of the votes.

O: What subjects or life topics do you want to focus on in your speech?
JE: My talk is in two parts. “Thugs, Bugs and Augs” is in relationship to experiences – decisions if you will – (and) themes that have permeated my academic and personal careers.

I’m going to talk about – without giving any secrets – largely, experiences that I’ve had in those 40 years. The way I describe it is that many of us don’t set out (with) one thing to become – a college professor in my case. It was basically by accident … so I’m going to talk about some of the decisions that made me the accidental instructor – if you will.

We’re going to be using clickers … so it’s going to be interactive to an extent. I’ve been using clickers for like seven years now, and so I thought if it’s going to be my last lecture, it might as well be like the last thousand or so lectures I’ve done.

O: Were there any difficulties in writing your speech?
JE: It is very emotional, and to be honest, I’m still struggling with some slides.

It’s very humbling to be midway through your career and try to impart wisdom on others. I mean, I’m still needing some myself.

Essentially, on every slide there will be one image, one photograph (or) one cartoon that would be tied to an experience that I had and relate it to my audience.

It’s still very hard to actually do … if it was indeed your last lecture what would be something that you want your audience … to come out of the talk with?

I think we all think about ‘What if I just had the last moment in my life? What would I say?’

O: Was there a process to choosing the stories that made it into your presentation?
JE: Even as a scientist, I can tell you there’s no logical scientific method that I used to take this (story) out or put that back in.

I’m not going to be lecturing to the people. I’m just going to tell them, essentially, this is my story and the story of Johnny, and this is what I learned at each step.

O: What kinds of benefits are there to writing this sort of retrospective work?
JE: It makes you think about … the things that have shaped your career. It could be going back to the accidental element.

My plan originally was to come to the states, get a master’s (degree) and then go back home and continue my career there. Different step here, different step there, different decisions totally changed my career. Twenty years later, I’m still here.

It makes you think about all these in a very stark, brutal way. It’s gratifying in a sense that you never have a chance to really sit down and try to thank those people along the way.

Hopefully, this is my chance to give thanks where thanks are due and tell a story that hopefully someone will take something out of.