The linguistics professor will discuss the importance of details with a unique lens.

Tonight at 7 p.m., linguistics professor Robert Kennedy will give a lecture as if it were his last, as part of the third annual “Last Lecture” event hosted by the Associated Students Academic Affairs Board at Lotte Lehmann Hall.

In September 2007, a computer science professor at Carnegie Mellon University named Randy Pausch gave a lecture that was to be his very last, as he was terminally ill with pancreatic cancer. The lecture, “Really Achieving Your Childhood Dreams,” has inspired a number of similar ‘last lecture’ series at other universities, including UCSB’s very own series, according to one of the organizers of the event, Angela Lau, a third-year economics and accounting major. UCSB’s “Last Lecture” series began three years ago with a presentation by psychology professor Alan Fridlund, who spoke about his academic and personal life with a retrospective lens.

Every year, students nominate a professor to speak. According to second-year psychology major and Spanish minor Sarah Breslaw, who helped organize the event alongside other students in A.S., the nomination is reached by an inclusive, democratic process held solely by the students.

“It’s all based on voting. We sent out a mass email to all students a few months back, requesting that they [choose] which professor they’d prefer to give their most meaningful lecture ever,” Breslaw said. “From there, the top three are picked out, and we personally ask them if they would be interested.”

Professor Kennedy — who won the nomination “hands-down” according to Breslaw — said he feels honored to speak this year and suggested that his selection comes from the way he tries to introduce students to new ideas during class time.

“I would imagine it has something to do with the messages I present in the larger classes I teach and how they provide new insights about language to students that they [personally] would have never thought of before,” Kennedy said.

Although he has not yet chosen a title for his last lecture, Kennedy said he knows what the content of his presentation will be.

“I’ll be talking about the kinds of big picture messages that we can get from paying attention to details about things and subjects that we love,” Kennedy said.


A version of this story appeared on page 6 of Wednesday, February 26, 2014’s print edition of the Daily Nexus.