Elizabeth Falk of the School of Education presented her hypothetical last lecture, “Navigating by Landmarks: People and Words that have Illuminated My Path,” as Geneseo’s inaugural “Last Lecture” on Wednesday April 12.
Falk began her talk by stating that while she is “navigationally challenged,” frequently needing her GPS in her car, there were a few words that have served as “landmarks” throughout her life in order for her to decide which way to go.
“Persistence” was the first of a series of words that had incredible power and meaning to Falk. Born in 1950 in Auburn, New York, Falk grew up with two brothers, her mother and her violent father.
“Each of us has something in our pasts that seeks to distract or destroy us,” Falk said. “It could be a person, a particular place or a label you’ve been forced to live under. It can wound you and define you, it can permanently change who you are meant to be, and it can alter the path you follow—if you allow it.”
The first major landmark Falk discussed was books. As her mother read voraciously, Falk described her memory of taking a red wagon filled with books to and from the library with her brothers and mother.
“They offered an air of possibility and the promise of escape,” Falk said.
The second landmark of her childhood was water. Falk partook in many water sports on Owasco Lake near the city of Auburn, like swimming and sailing. The water offered Falk safety and distance because her father couldn’t swim.
Falk mentioned that as a child, she found she had perfected the act of invisibility in order to handle her father’s anger and violence.
She entered college at Geneseo and said that, at the time, women had two choices in terms of studies: nursing and teaching. Falk chose teaching, but mentioned that in reality, teaching chose her.
The second major word for Falk was “passion.”
“It is possible to find work that is challenging, fulfilling and joyful,” Falk said.
But, bringing in her third word “choice,” she said that even if you do find work that you love, you still have to make some hard choices. If you’re prepared and practiced, however, you can make good choices, Falk said.
She discussed how if you make a bad choice, you can turn around and replace those bad choices with better ones. Here, Falk mentioned a few teachers from her past who had told her she wasn’t musically inclined, creative or a good enough writer.
She then mentioned how later in her life, their words were overlooked, as the need to create became stronger than those words uttered. In one way or another, she accomplished those things the teachers said she couldn’t do.
The fourth and final word was “joy,” as focusing and looking for joy carries Falk through the ups and downs of life. She showed many pictures of her children and grandchildren, all who serve as an immense source of joy in her life.
“The thing about joy is that it’s fleeting—you have to focus on it,” Falk said.
This collection of words and the stories Falk associates with them provided an inspirational framework around which Falk could deliver inspiration through the wisdom she has gained throughout her life.
Like any great lecture, Falk’s talk left the audience questioning their choices with whom they’re surrounding themselves, as she discussed the chances we have to get choices right if only we are prepared and willing to keep improving the choices we make.