Matt Kearley presents 2022 Final Lecture, offers encouraging advice to students
“What you’re seeing is a miracle,” said Matt Kearley in his opening remarks of the 2022 Final Lecture, asking attendees to view themselves through their camera phone lens, explaining how biologically magnificent the odds were that we are all here.
“The question now is what are you going to do with that extraordinary opportunity?”
Kearley, the non-majors general biology coordinator for the Department of Biological Sciences in the College of Sciences and Mathematics, or COSAM, was chosen to deliver the 2022 Final Lecture held April 4 at 7 p.m. in the Melton Student Center Ballroom at the start of the student senate meeting. He was elected by the student body and chosen for the honor earlier this year during spring SGA elections.
The Final Lecture is an SGA program that gives all students the opportunity to participate in a teaching award given on behalf of the student body, recognizing professors who have made extraordinary contributions to Auburn University through classroom teaching and service to the university. Kearley has had the distinct honor of being selected not once, but twice - previously giving the Final Lecture in 2011.
Kearley received both his bachelor and master’s degrees from Auburn University in wildlife science and has been an instructor for nearly 21 years at Auburn. He teaches Introduction to Biology, Survey of Life and Vertebrate Biodiversity to undergraduate students.
In fact, one of Kearley’s current students, Lyndsey Haskins, was the person who initially nominated him to deliver this year’s Final Lecture. Haskins, who is majoring in human development and family science with a concentration in child life, has had Kearley for two biology classes and says he understands that many of his students are not in science-related majors and works hard to make sure his class is not only interesting and engaging, but also that the information they learn is relevant to their lives and could help them in the future.
“He cares so deeply for his students and will go out of his way to help us succeed in his class - hosting review sessions the day before his exams, hosting office hours every day, making sure that students have ample opportunity to reach him for any questions or support they may need for class,” said Haskins. “Both classes that I have had with him have been large lecture classes, and he knows every student's name. I am extremely grateful to have had him as a professor for these past two semesters, and he very quickly became my favorite professor here.”
Kearley said he was initially surprised to hear he had been selected to give the lecture.
“I was really humbled to be selected for this honor,” said Kearley. “Knowing that this was nominated and voted on by Auburn students makes the recognition very meaningful to me.”
Throughout his lecture, Kearley provided advice to students and attendees in the audience while interweaving personal stories about his life and career.
He encouraged students to care more about finding their purpose and ways to demonstrate their purpose to others and recalled experiences about a personal accident that changed his perspective on life, finding his passion as a college instructor, and surrounding himself with colleagues that share the same passions.
Kearley advised students to follow the three Cs – be creative, courageous and consistent. He highlighted Dr. Emil J. Freireich’s story as a trailblazing, creative pioneer in the treatment of childhood cancer who was profiled in Malcolm Gladwell’s book titled David and Goliath: Underdogs, Misfits, and the Art of Battling Giants.
Kearley talked about having to think outside the box during the COVID-19 pandemic which, with the support of Arboretum Director Morgan Pendergrass and COSAM leadership, resulted in an outdoor Arboretum classroom space so that his classes could experience face-to-face instruction.
Kearley advised students that in order to care for others, you first need to care about yourself, noting that stress and anxiety have been at the forefront of students’ minds through the COVID-19 pandemic.
“There is only one person you have to impress and that is you,” said Kearley. “Remember that you’ve been enough ever since the start.”
Kearley shared personal stories of resilience and love about his cousin, Byekwaso Gilbert, or “B”, from Uganda; his aunt and uncle, Robert and Becky Gilbert, who were passing through from Oklahoma and got to attend the live lecture; and his wife Jessica and stepdaughters Avery and Logan.
Kearley concluded by reminding students, “You have defied the most staggering odds to be here. You have been given an extraordinary gift, and I hope you make the most of it and have the most amazing life. It’s been the honor of my life to be able to care for such an amazing group of students over these years.”
Eagle Eye TV livestreamed and recorded this year’s Final Lecture. Kearley’s full lecture can be viewed here in the first half of the video.
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