Last Lecture encourages seniors to try new things, embrace failure, laugh, soar and more

At the senior class’ Last Lecture on the steps of the Morehead Planetarium and Science Center on thursday night, Lois Boynton thanked the students for selecting her as the professor they wanted to hear from one more time.

It’s because of Carolina’s students, she said, that she was giving their last lecture – and not her own.

Boynton, associate professor in the School of Journalism and Mass Communication, told the crowd assembled on the planetarium’s lawn that there was a time not long ago that she was afraid her lectures were numbered. Diagnosed with cancer in July 2011, Boynton is two years out of treatment and falls in the “no evidence of disease” category, but during the semesters she spent enduring treatment, it was from her classes and colleagues she drew strength.

“I had a terrific medical team at UNC, and in addition to that, I had all of you, all of you who I know and who I may have seen sometime around campus,” she told the students. “I wanted to be here because I got energy and support from you, the people I knew, students in my classes who brought silly hats for me to wear when I had no hair, and my faculty and staff friends who would go and sit with me while I had chemo.

“I think that was because it got them out of faculty meetings,” Boynton deadpanned.

It was with that same warmth and humor that Boynton, who has taught public relations and ethics at the journalism school for 13 years, turned “Tar Heel” into an acronym of life lessons. Donning a newly-gifted tiara, she turned to the audience for participation as much as she imparted upon them her advice, asking questions about their lives, inviting them to teach her new dance steps and attempting the world’s largest selfie with her cell phone.

Try something new. “There’s a reason we get you to think outside of where you’ve been and where you think you’re going. It prepares you now to try new things all the time. Experience things as best you can, and as soon as you can.”

Ask questions. “Every chance you get, ask a question. Ask for information. Ask for advice. Ask for an explanation and, more importantly, ask for help. Trust the cancer patient here . . . I had to ask for help. The one thing I learned more than anything is that people want you to ask them.”

Remember. “I’ve talked to some of you who say you’re excited about leaving and, at the same time, you don’t want to leave. You have so many great memories here. Hold on to those. Come to Homecoming. Stay close.”

Help. “Never underestimate the difference you can make in the lives of others. Step forward, reach out and help. What I love about Carolina’s students is the fact that you like to help. You want to help each other, you want to help your family and you want to help your community. These are the signs of great human beings.”

Expect ethical challenges. “People are going to challenge your sensibilities . . . Think about it as far as it is going to happen and how you will respond. Where is the line you’re not going to cross? Think about that ahead of time. When you’re looking at jobs, check out their code of ethics. What are their expectations? Do they meet what you believe is most important?”

Embrace failure. “Think of the number of inventions and solutions that have come out of people failing. There’s a wonderful saying that says if you fall down seven times, get up eight. That’s what you need to do. If you’re going to fail, fail boldly. Do not be afraid to fail because that’s where solutions come from.

Life, laugh, love. Be silly. Be yourselves. Be crazy. Don’t take yourself too seriously. One of the things I counted on when I was going through treatment was that somebody could help me laugh, and I had to rely on myself, too, to find things to laugh at. Cancer is not funny, but there’s a lot of funny stuff that happens.”

Soar. “You can do anything. You will do everything. And I’m going to be able to sit back and say I knew her when. I knew him when. You will be incredible, you will soar, and you will make us so proud. We’re already proud.”

The Last Lecture is sponsored by the General Alumni Association to give graduating students a chance to hear a final lecture from a favorite professor before they leave campus.

According to Georgia Walker, senior class president and a broadcast and electronic journalism major, the class chose Boynton because they knew she would provide a memorable sendoff for graduating seniors.

“She has connected with seniors on a deeper level than many other professors, and she presents relatable and enjoyable lectures that engage,” Walker said.

By Courtney Mitchell, University Gazette.

April 25, 2014.