If Elizabeth Signorotti could only give one last lecture in her life, she would stress the importance of traveling off the beaten path. On Thursday evening, she got her chance.
The Last Lecture series, sponsored by the Student Association Programming Board (SAPB), was inspired by Randy Pausch. A computer science professor at Carnegie Mellon University, Pausch was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer at the age of 45. After learning he only had a few months of good health left, he gave a final lecture called “Really Achieving Your Childhood Dreams,” which has since inspired professors to give a lecture as though it were their last.
Signorotti, an English professor, asked students in both her Adolescent Literature and Children’s Literature courses what they would want to hear her speak about. With their feedback in mind, she geared her talk toward helping students find their ideal careers and overcoming any obstacles they may face. She urged students to follow their own unique path with perseverance, and to remain positive in unexpected circumstances.
“Things get bad, things are going to get bad and if you just hang on they’ll turn around,” Signorotti said. “They always do.”
Signorotti outlined her own unorthodox path in life, beginning with her childhood growing up on a farm in a small rural community in central California. This small-town upbringing inspired some attendees.
“It was really interesting to see the contrast and learn how she made her way to her career,” said TJ Watt, a sophomore majoring in accounting.
She then traveled through Europe for a year. While she visited the typical galleries and tourist attractions when abroad, she said her best memories came from unconventional experiences like taking a midnight ride on a barge carrying trash down the canals of Venice.
“The memories that get made, they get made along the way,” she said. “They get made in the detours of life.”
Signorotti warned students against focusing solely on finding a career, and said they should instead pursue experiences that are not usually found through traditional academic avenues.
“There’s so much pressure to go out and get it done,” Signorotti said. “Sometimes it’s better to stay back and do the thing that’s not expected of you.”
But for students concerned about job prospects after graduation, Signorotti emphasized the importance of persistence, and shared stories from her own employment search. After returning from Europe she spent months calling potential employers and eventually landed a job at a newspaper.
“Things work out,” she said. “They may not work as you expected, but they will work out.”
According to Amanda Wolfe, a senior majoring in English, the committee invited Signorotti to speak because of the popularity of her courses and her experiences.
“When you really like a professor, it becomes pretty clear by the way that you talk about them and what you have to say,” Wolfe wrote in an email. “I think overall we realized that this was someone that we wanted more students to get to know.”
Matt Costanzo, a senior double-majoring in accounting and business administration, said he related to Signorotti’s stories that emphasized the importance of having meaningful experiences instead of focusing solely on school.
“You have to consider what you are really going to take stock in,” Costanzo said. “You are going to take stock in the people you’ve affected, the thing you’ve built and the skills you’ve gained.”