Top Takeaways from Father Jeremy Clarke's "Last Lecture"

If you ask any given student at Boston College to describe Father Jeremy Clarke, each one of them would most likely say the same three words: Australian. Priest. Chinese.

Seemingly, these three words do not seem to coincide with one another, and as Father Clarke would say, while simultaneously performing his famous tri-part demonstration of this phenomenon, one of the most bizarre things he has ever experienced is “being an Australian… teaching Asian history… in Boston.”

Although often described as “the man who needs no introduction,” he certainly deserves one. Father Clarke is renowned as a beloved friend, professor and mentor on campus. As a favorite priest for 10:15 mass at Lower, the team chaplain for the men’s basketball team and a “professor of champions” in the history department, Father Clarke has inspired his students and congregations since he began his time here at BC in 2007. Not only has he managed to enact lasting wisdom about ancient Asian history on those desperate to complete their history core in a fun way, but he has made an effort to spend time among his students, even to the point of becoming a BC Twitter celebrity.

Mary Yuengert/Gavel Media

Mary Yuengert/Gavel Media

It is no surprise, then, that when Clarke arrived in Devlin 008 on Tuesday night, April 29, he was immediately greeted with a filled-to-capacity lecture hall by an Earth-shattering round of applause, 10 minutes before he was scheduled to begin his “Last Lecture” at Boston College.

The "Last Lecture" series is held at the end of each semester by Americans for Informed Democracy, a nonpartisan student organization dedicated to creating dialogue on campus about domestic and international issues. AID gives one distinguished professor the chance to answer the question: "If you had the chance to give the last lecture of your life, what would you say?" 

While the "Last Lecture" series has traditionally posed a hypothetical situation to professors, Clarke’s was truly special in that it was his actual last lecture as a professor at BC. Professor Clarke will be leaving after this semester to continue his work with the Jesuits as a part of the Jesuit Mission Australia.  While his humor, loving nature, and wealth of knowledge will be dearly missed, he couldn’t leave without giving some lasting bits of advice to his champion students in his signature classroom.

In case you missed it, here are, in Father Clarke’s words, the “top takeaways” from BC’s favorite Australian’s last lecture.

Always begin with a joke. Father Clarke’s favorite goes something like this: “A mushroom walks into a bar… and it devolves from there, I’m not gonna tell the whole thing, but basically it discriminates against fun people.”

Stay true to advertising. While this was not scheduled to be Father Clarke’s final lecture--in truth he has classes on Wednesday and Thursday--he felt obliged to validate the name of the series and vow not to lecture on those days in class.

Acknowledge the value of others and what they have to offer the world. Although he could’ve taken the time to soapbox unending wisdom upon the 350 students present, Clarke chose to begin the theoretical “last lecture of his life” with five minutes of the popular “Everybody’s Free (To Wear Sunscreen)” song by Baz Luhrmann, a fellow Australian and lover of parodic yet helpful advice.

“Humans are created to praise, give reverence and serve.” A concept taken from the Principal and Foundation of the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius, Clarke elaborated on ways that he has learned to follow these three purposes that human beings were supposedly created to fulfill.

He described praising as giving thanks and being conscious of all of the blessings and gifts that we receive on a daily basis. He suggested a “counter-cultural senior five,” in which BC seniors create a list of five people they want to thank and recognize before graduation for assisting them along their BC journey.

Giving reverence for Clarke meant seeing the sacred in each person, and in the world around us. From his own experience, he encouraged students to “be gentle with your memories, and to your memories,” through self-forgiveness for past actions and cherishing of present ones.

He saw service as creating a community, whether it be building houses in Dorchester, serving in the Jesuit Volunteer Corps or taking the time to have (bad) coffee on campus with a friend. In his time as a Jesuit so far, Clarke has learned the importance of being generous with your time: having the courage to say yes when you can, while realizing that it’s okay to say no in order to tend to your own physical, mental and spiritual well-being.

Find your passion. Opening with the familiar poem by Pedro Arrupe, SJ, Father Clarke told the story of finding his own passions, taking Chinese as a young boy, spending a year studying in China on a scholarship after he graduated from high school and witnessing the deaths of hundreds of civilians during the Tiananmen Square protests in 1989 from the comfort of his university in Australia.

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Photo courtesy of YouTube

That moment, in which he decided to commit his life to serving the Chinese people, as well as his eventual discovery of Jesus and ordination as a Jesuit, serve as the three sources of passion that Clarke has found in his own life. He then posed the question to the audience: “What is your passion? What are you going to fall in love with, and how will that affect your life and your choices?”

Avoid the “globalization of superficiality.” Clarke warned about our modern culture of Facebook, Snapchatting and “Tweetfacing” that fosters a superficial persona. It is these applications, which allow us to be removed from the present moment, that create a “superficiality of thought, vision, dreams, relationships and convictions,” according to Clarke, and we need to work hard to combat this by intentionally being present and making face-to-face contact in our relationships. He challenged students to “hang out, don’t hook up” and seek out actual people to spend time with rather than a computer screen.

“Life is too short for bad wine, bad coffee or bad company.” While this may have stemmed from a semester too many of stale cups of Dean’s Beans, this advice especially spoke to Clarke’s carefree Australian background. Although many may have thought “The smaller the bubbles, the better you feel” to be Clarke’s best advice of the night in reference to quality of wine, his words about letting go of people that drag you down seemed to, in truth, resonate most with the audience: “Find the people that will help you be the best you.”

“Don’t be afraid to be people of faith.” In such a secular world where elementary school classrooms cringe if the word “God” is said too loudly, Father Clarke dared to say that being a person of faith is “recognizing that we are weak and sinful, and that our institutions are weak and sinful.” However, the silver lining is that in that sin, we are called to build a better world. Clarke added that a Jesuit education “calls for people who have a heart large enough to love the whole world,”  and that recognizing our faults and shortcomings is as much of our calling as is loving the whole world and discerning what our role is in that world.

Sometimes, poetry can put into words what we can’t say ourselves. To conclude his final lecture, Clarke shared a poem written by Les Murray, an Australian of course, titled “The Last Hellos,” the purpose of which was to sum up Clarke’s greatest wish upon those he has served at Boston College in its final line: “Fuck them. I wish you God.”

It’s always appropriate to spontaneously break out in song.

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Mary Yuengert