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Clarke Delivers His ‘Last Lecture’

The latest installment of the Americans for Informed Democracy’s (AID) “Last Lecture” series provided the setting for Rev. Jeremy Clarke, S.J.’s final curtain call at Boston College.
The assistant professor of history, a Jesuit from Australia, has taught at BC since arriving in 2007 as a visiting instructor, teaching courses in Asian history and on China in particular. On Tuesday night, Clarke stood before a packed Devlin 008 one last time, as students past and present gathered to hear his last lecture before he returns to his home country to work at the Jesuit Mission of Australia.

The “Last Lecture” series features BC professors delivering talks based on Carnegie Mellon professor Randy Pausch’s model lecture and subsequent book. Pausch, diagnosed with terminal cancer in 2007, decided to address the question, “If you had the chance to give the last lecture of your life, what would you say?”

In this context, Clarke chose to reflect on some of the most important themes in his life as a Jesuit, particularly interweaving anecdotes and memories from his time at BC. What truly motivates him and frames his core identity, he said, is based on the First Principle and Foundation of St. Ignatius of Loyola: the human person is created to praise, revere, and serve God.

He expressed praise and gratitude for the students he has gotten to know over 10 semesters teaching at BC, and he gave thanks that his provincial in Australia sent him here.
“An Australian Jesuit, teaching Chinese history, in Boston,” Clarke said, moving across the room as he progressed through each facet of his current role. “It just doesn’t make a lot of sense.

“But over these past few years, even in those moments when, for instance, I had to file a student for plagiarism … even in those really tough instances, it has nevertheless been a privilege and a blessing to be in this relationship with you.”

Clarke encouraged the audience, in a last challenge as a part of his last lecture, to engage in a “counter-cultural” senior five, finding people who have positively influenced their time at BC, thanking them, and catching up before they leave campus.

As for reverence, Clarke talked about his role as a historian trying to give students an overview of centuries of Asian history in just two semesters, and, as a Jesuit, looking for God in everything.

“My role as a historian, as an academic, is hopefully to be encouraging you to look at your world and see the goodness and the beauty in it, the possibilities and wonder in it,” he said. “Even when we look at wars and massacres and famines, and even though we know that the world can also be a not very nice place. We know that the Mods can be not a very nice place. It’s reverencing and being aware of these things.”

Clarke continued that everyone should be gentle with his or her memories. There is value, he said, in moving on with life and not being held down by obstacles. In this section of his talk, Clarke took the opportunity to share some of his favorite worst course evaluations. When asked if they would recommend his course, several students wrote an emphatic, “No.”
“Father Clarke seems like a nice guy, but give him a microphone and he turns into a d-bag,” Clarke joked as he quoted from one of the evaluations.

When discussing service, Clarke mentioned many BC students’ heavy involvement with volunteer organizations that work to build community. He also pointed to a specific scenario several years ago surrounding C.A.R.E. (Concerned About Rape Education) Week and the men’s rugby team at BC.

After hearing a story of a young woman who was raped at a party, and then seeing destructive language in advertising for an upcoming Barstool Blackout party, Clarke talked to the rugby players about the difference they could make.

“I told them, ‘No, no, no, you need to stand up and actually oppose this, this culture of violence, this culture of [nonconsent], this culture of silence,'” Clarke said.

Not only did the players draft a letter speaking out against violent behavior toward women, but they also went further and presented during C.A.R.E. Week. This example, Clarke said, showed true service and true community building.

Overall, on the topic of service, Clarke shared a simple piece of advice:

“Say yes if you can, and learn to say no.”

In addition to the three elements of St. Ignatius’s principle, Clarke urged students to find something about which they care immensely that can motivate them moving forward, just as the Society of Jesus, being a priest, and studying China have motivated him.

“If I’m teaching anything in this last lecture, it’s ‘What’s your passion?'” Clarke asked the audience. “What are you going to fall in love with? And how will that affect your life and choices?”

Clarke recommended finding and holding on to people in our lives that bring out those passions.

“Life is too short-find the people, find the stuff that helps make you the best you,” he said.

As he moves on to his new position, Clarke said he has had to reflect on the ways in which he can make the best contributions to the world. His new role will combine his skills and capabilities in a manner that truly excites him, he said, and it will get him out of bed in the morning. Although he is leaving, Clarke emphasized that he will still be connected with those he has met at BC.

“Yes, I’m moving on,” he said. “But as Jesuits, that’s what we do. That’s what gives me life.”

May 1, 2014

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