December 2, 2016

Prof Urges Students to Embrace Challenges, Take Risks at ‘Last Lecture’

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Prof. David Sherwyn, hotel administration, urged students to take risks and appreciate every day at this semester’s Mortar Board lecture, which gives professors a hypothetical last chance to speak on a topic they are passionate about.

Despite his successful career in law and hospitality, Sherwyn said at his “last lecture” that he hopes students do not make the same mistakes he did, encouraging Cornellians to take advantage of their time on campus.

He began the lecture with a sobering story about a former student of his at Cornell, Phil Cummings, who he said he considered his “brightest student.”

Cummings was diagnosed with cancer shortly after graduating and struggled with the illness for years, continually moving in and out of remission. However, Sherwyn said Cummings remained undeterred, conducting research with Sherwyn even as he was bedridden in the hospital.

After he passed away, Sherwyn said he made it a goal of his to make sure that every student he taught would hear Cummings’ story.

“Any last lecture would begin with Phil,” he said.

Sherwyn went on to recount how he discovered his passion for teaching and the long journey it took for him to fulfill his dream of becoming a law professor. Sherwyn used his story to encourage Cornellians to avoid the key mistake he made when structuring his career.

“Never wish away your time. Today’s a great day, make tomorrow even better,” he said, urging students to value every day at Cornell. He added that what makes studying at Cornell “worth it” in his eyes is “it allows you to take risks … you can take and go for what you really want [in life].”

“If you’re too comfortable at a young age, maybe it’s time to move on,” Sherwyn said at the conclusion of his lecture. “Take the risk and take it now.”