On his first day as a graduate student at Boston University, Jack Dunn saw a quote attributed to Horace Mann inscribed on the wall of a university building: “Be ashamed to die until you have won some great deed for humanity.”
“Academia loves these lofty statements,” Dunn said. “And I do too.”
Dunn, Director of News & Public Affairs at Boston College and BC ’83, spoke in McGuinn 121 on Thursday as part of BC’s Last Lecture Series, which is sponsored by the BC chapter of Americans for Informed Democracy. Each semester, the group invites a member of the BC faculty or administration to talk about the knowledge they would share if they had one lecture left to give. The idea of the last lecture originated with Randy Pausch, a professor at Carnegie Mellon University, who gave one final lecture at CMU after being diagnosed with pancreatic cancer.
The advice Dunn shared was broken into six parts: the important of gratitude, giving, making a difference, letting go of remorse, cherishing opportunities, and believing in yourself.
At the beginning of his talk, Dunn asked how many members of the audience have attended an examen reflection—a Jesuit tradition—at the Manresa House on College Rd. The examen is every Wednesday at 9:45 p.m. and consists of 15-20 minutes of reflection. It is a way to slow down and appreciate moments of joy, something he said that everyone needs to do.
“With reflection you can’t help but become more grateful,” he said.
An important part of a Jesuit education is to develop your talents and use them to help others, he said. Dunn emphasized that this can be done in many small ways. For ten years, he participated in the Big Brother Association of Boston, mentoring a boy named John Esposito from Dorchester. Though Esposito was initially shy and quiet, he opened up to Dunn as the years passed.
With Dunn’s mentorship, Esposito began to gain confidence in his skills and his grades improved. Eventually, he earned a scholarship to Northeastern University, and he planned to become a lawyer. They formed a strong bond that was nothing short of love, Dunn said.
“Think of the people who nurtured you and think that all around us there are people for whom that experience has never occurred,” he said. “I hope you will do the big things, but don’t forget to do the little things. Because it’s the little things—words of encouragement, ability to instill confidence in someone—that’s what makes the big difference.”
Ten years after Dunn and Esposito initially met, Esposito was stabbed to death at a party when he was 19.
This was the beginning of a series of deaths of Dunn’s close friends—his best friend was later diagnosed with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), a neurodegenerative disease better known as Lou Gehrig’s Disease.
Dunn discussed how to give up remorse and anger, and he shared the most intimate details of his life to the audience because he wants to help students who might also be suffering, he said.
“I need to tell you from my own experience to let go of that because God wants you to be happy and he wants you to live your life to the fullest, and you can’t if you’re holding on to baggage,” he said. “None of us are perfect. That’s the beauty of it. So whatever it is that bothers you, whatever it is that constitutes your regret, your anger, your remorse, your guilt, let it go.”
He advised students to take advantage of opportunities at BC by going to lectures, talking to professors, and pushing themselves to meet people outside of their circle of friends. Just like Horace Mann had said, Dunn wants BC students to achieve greatness.
Dunn closed the lecture by encouraging students to fully appreciate their experiences at BC.
“20,000 kids wanted to go here and you beat them out and another million would have given their hand and for them Boston College was never in the realm of possibility,” he said. “It’s your experience. Take advantage of it. Cherish it.”
Featured Image by Drew Hoo / Heights Staff