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Mortar Board lecture inspires students

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Last Thursday, I had the honor of hearing one of the best lectures of my life. Titled “The Moral of the Story,” held by senior honor society Mortar Board in McConomy Auditorium, the event featured four prominent Carnegie Mellon professors, who shared their personal experiences in hopes that students could use them to better their lives. Overall, they gave great advice over a wide array of life topics, coupled with many exciting and almost unbelievable stories.

First to take the stage was associate teaching professor in the department of statistics, Rebecca Nugent. She centered her presentation on the best and worst decisions that she made throughout her life.

While she filled her presentation with much humor, such as not drinking the “yellow vodka” of Ukrainians in Antarctica, she presented a well-thought-out thesis to her presentation: Follow your gut.

She exemplified this lesson through her own personal experiences, such as her mistake of continuing to date her boyfriend simply because she was caught up in the momentum of life and found it simpler to keep riding than change.
Advice like this applies to nearly everyone. Whether you find yourself with the wrong person, in the wrong major, or simply making one wrong decision because it is easier to ride the momentum, Nugent’s words have significant value.

The next speaker was School of Computer Science teaching professor David Kosbie, who brought forth a roller coaster of emotions.

The most heart-rending part of the event was his story about a former student who was diagnosed with cancer and spent his final days working on his 15-112 term project. Kosbie described almost failing to make the decision to drive nine-and-a-half hours to attend the student’s funeral.

As he stated, people always try to make excuses for why they should not do things. However, we should follow our intuitions and do what we know is right. There were great similarities between Kosbie’s words of inspiration and those of the late Carnegie Mellon computer science professor and famed author of The Last Lecture, Randy Pausch.

Teaching professor and associate department head of the department of mathematical sciences John Mackey, then took the stage, with his signature two-liter of Diet Coke in hand, and spoke poignantly.

Mackey described his hard life growing up in rural Ohio and being beaten up for defending his gay brother. Instead of simply being stepped on, he was inspired to work out and grow stronger. He focused much of his presentation on doing things that make you uncomfortable and standing up for yourself.

The perspectives he gained from his life experiences were quite interesting. Perhaps one of his most interesting learning experiences was being a victim of racial prejudice first-hand in Hawaii. Instead of being upset by the incident, he enthusiastically turned it into a learning experience.

Last but not least was Robert F. Culbertson, adjunct assistant professor of entrepreneurship in the Tepper School of Business. Culbertson brought the event to a close with his experiences in entrepreneurship. He too stressed following your gut feeling and expressed deep regret about the fact that he turned down a dinner with Steve Jobs when a friend from college contacted him.

The sincerity on his face was apparent as he stated that some decisions could not be undone. He then showed his poetic side and finished his speech by having everyone in the audience clap while he rapped about all that the speakers said. He was a great choice for a concluding speaker, as he had many shocking and exciting stories to tell, and his rap brought everything together humorously.

The entire presentation was powerful and moving — a reminder that perhaps a failed test or the girl who got away is not the end of the world. We tend to make such a big deal out of small things, which causes us to forget that which is important: the people around us.

We become so engulfed in our work that we cause ourselves to turn down opportunities, such as meeting Steve Jobs or attending the funeral of someone who touched us deeply.

“The Moral of the Story” was a good reminder that we cannot fully control our fate, and the only way that we will enjoy our lives is if we enjoy the journey along the way and make time for what really matters. Ironically, my decision to attend this event was a spontaneous one, but I am glad that I followed my gut feeling and heard all that these speakers had to say. This event was inspiring, and I hope to see more like it in the future.