Recently appointed College Dean Robin Forman — who took up his current post in July — spoke to students Wednesday evening and tackled the “daunting task [of] sharing some life wisdom with just anybody.”
Forman drew from a range of personal stories including his family and 13-year-old son, as well as his undergraduate stint in a rock band at the University of Pennsylvania.
Other sources of Forman’s personal inspiration include the discipline of mathematics, his experiences doing stand-up comedy, artists Leonardo Da Vinci and Pablo Picasso, singer Bruce Springstein and writer Khalil Gibran.
Forman illustrated his first life lessons by countering the common saying: “No one ever sits on their death bed wishing they had spent more time at the office.”
“This is completely wrong,” he exclaimed with laughter.
He cited his years of working in academia with faculty who were passionate about teaching, and explained that the reward for them is not in what they receive from their work, but rather in what they give.
“That is what I wish for all of you. That you find a career, or something like a hobby where you find something to give,” he said.
Forman also said that while setting goals, many people tend to outline some unhealthy objectives for themselves.
“Setting goals is way overrated,” he said, pointing to goals that are out of people’s control, such as winning the lottery.
There also remains the problem of goal “neurosis,” Forman cautioned, with people frequently moving from one goal to the next.
“It’s a distraction from the things that are cause for joy and celebration,” he said. He encouraged students to pause and reflect on accomplishments that merit pride and self-satisfaction, assuring students that “it’s okay to feel a little pride.”
He also spoke at length on what a liberal arts education offers, tying in his thoughts to the importance of setting goals.
“There’s concern about the liberal arts now, and I’m sure you’re all worried about getting a job,” he said, adding that there is still value in the liberal arts.
Forman quickly made the point that securing employment should not be the main goal of a student who is in the midst of studying the liberal arts.
Rather, he said, students should aim to learn how to “find joy in the complexities that surround us, developing a love of mystery.”
“It’s about asking questions and leading a life of inquiry,” he said.
He also mentioned that the liberal arts, in comparison to profession-oriented paths, aims to “place much greater value on the journey than the destination.”
Forman said the most important lesson the liberal arts can offer is an appreciation of beauty, both in the world around individuals and in the struggle of accepting the world’s complexity.
“Most adults seek out comfort in simplicity,” he said, and warned that this often leads people to mentally shut out and ignore parts of reality for a false sense of security.
He encouraged students to remain open and learn from experiences that challenge their existing beliefs, pointing out that most of man’s greatest accomplishments and most lasting discoveries resulted after boldly facing contradiction.
“What’s lasting in beauty is its complications,” he said.
The lecture was part of the “Last Lecture” series, an Emory College tradition since 1981, and is currently sponsored by the Residential Hall Association.
Different faculty and administrators are presented each year with the opportunity to give a lecture as if it were their last.
“In addition to giving students the opportunity to meet professors and administrators, one of the goals of the Last Lecture series is to give residents the opportunity to learn some important lessons about life that they might not get in a classroom setting, from someone who understands Emory students,” wrote Residential Hall Association Special Events Chair Tess Wilkins in an email to the Wheel.
Many students expressed their satisfaction with Forman’s “Last Lecture.”
“It’s timely because it’s the end of the semester, and as sophomores it’s the time when we’re choosing majors and making important decisions for ourselves,” College sophomore Zohra Manjee said.
Students said they were surprised by what they deemed Forman’s overall approachable demeanor, considering he has been dean of Emory College for only a few months.
In addition, some students commented on the fact that they found Forman to be rather humorous.
Before coming to Emory, Forman was a faculty member at Rice University for 23 years where he served as chair of the mathematics department, and was later appointed dean of undergraduate studies.
He explained that he enjoys playing chess, stand-up comedy and songwriting.
Recalling his former days in a rock band in college he advised students, “It’s great, you should all form rock bands. Even though I was terrible.”
— Contact Danielle Douez.