The Cornell chapter of Mortar Board, a national honor society, will be presenting its annual Last Lecture Series today at 4:30 in Goldwin Smith’s Kaufman auditorium.
This year’s lectures will be presented by Prof. Robert Harris, Africana studies, vice provost for diversity and faculty development and Ronald Ehrenberg, the Irving M. Ives Professor of Industrial and Labor Relations and Economics and the director of the Cornell Higher Education Research Institute.
“Mortar Board was founded at Cornell University in 1918, with the Last Lecture Series running since around 1930,” said Jon Overdevest ’04, chapter vice president.
Said Overdevest, “Mortar Board is an honor society that recognizes college seniors for distinguished ability and achievement in scholarship, leadership, and service. Other activities and interests of the society include hosting several philanthropic events per year as well as raising funds for donations to local Ithaca agencies.”
“The Last Lecture Series is an opportunity for a member of the Cornell Faculty to speak on a topic of their choice while conducting the lecture in a manner as if it were the final speech of their academic career,” Overdevest said.
Harris, whose lecture is entitled, “And Still I Rise: The Meaning of African American History in the 21st Century,” was startled upon being approached for the event.
“My initial reaction to the request to participate in the Last Lecture series was that I was subtly being put out to pasture. After recovering from the shock of the request possibly being a termination notice in disguise, I then began to think about what I would like to say in a last lecture,” Harris said.
Harris decided to address his career’s work concerning race relations. “I plan to share the evolution of my thought about the socio-economic status of African Americans. Since my undergraduate days, I have had a curiosity about why African Americans have occupied a position of inequality in American society,” he said.
After many years of study, “I have discovered that like most questions, the problem is more complicated than I initially surmised. In my lecture, I will share some of the conclusions that I have drawn after almost thirty years of examining the problem,” Harris said.
Ehrenberg’s lecture will focus more closely on his personal life as a professor and administrator. Much of his life has changed in the past few years, during which he founded the Cornell Higher Education Research Institute. While many aspects of his family life have transformed, Ehrenberg has been left at a time of introspection.
This inward analysis has provided much material for his lecture Tuesday. Ehrenberg summarized his message, saying, “given all these changes, if I were in fact retiring on Tuesday, [it’s] what I would want to say about what has been meaningful about my career at Cornell and what lessons I have learned about life that would be useful for younger people to hear.”
In previous years, lecture topics have included “What Comes Next? — Life After Cornell”; “Overcoming Setbacks and Failure” and “Ruminations on Life as a Cornellian” as well as many other politically charged and academically minded addresses, said Overdevest.
Archived article by Tony Apuzzo