I am a professor of political science, and on the last day of class in the Fall 1999 semester I stumbled on the perfect ending to my course. I was struggling to review for the students a number of basic points about the European Union and national-level politics in Europe. I was working hard to tell them what I hoped they would carry away from the class and would remember about European politics in years to come. And I was not doing a very good job of achieving those goals.
Why? I was desperately worried about my mother-in-law, who seemed to be near death. I was worried about my stepdaughters, who were facing the prospect of yet another death in the family. I was worried about my husband, whose father had died when he was 14 and whose first wife had died at a young age. Was he now going to lose his mother only a few years after the death of his first wife-and only a few months after the death of his first wife's father? I was radically uncertain and very sad.
Then, in the last fifteen minutes or so of the class, I stopped trying to teach political science and started to say something about life-indeed, about uncertainty, life, and death.
I began with the words, "I profess." And I continued, roughly, along these lines:
I profess a love of learning. I profess a love of science. I profess a commitment to teaching and to every one of the students in this room. Quite a few of you don't know what you will do with your lives yet, what your career will look like, with whom you will make your family as an adult. But whatever you do, try to do it with passion. Make a commitment to a career, a community, a family, a set of ideas and values, and pursue that commitment with passion.
I am a professor. I profess: Do all that you can to learn about yourself and the world around you. Do all that you can to improve yourself and the world around you. And do all that you can to live with uncertainty, with the death of your loved ones, and with the prospect of your own death.
say this because I am now facing the prospect of my mother-in-law's death,
and that has triggered many sad memories. It is difficult to teach you
political science today, but I am still trying my very best to profess
a passion for what I do and a pride in how I live. I live, we all must
live, we all can live, with radical uncertainty, with the death of family
members and friends, and with the prospect of our own death.