Associate Professor of History John Haas was the first person selected to give the "Last Lecture" 2015 at Chesapeake College. Many colleges across the country hold "Last Lecture" events each year, but this was the first time such an event took place at Chesapeake.
Haas was selected by the student body to share his words of wisdom, said Director of Student Life Rohry Flood, who added that this will become a new tradition at Chesapeake.
"I think a last lecture lets the students see their faculty members in a different light," Flood said. "We spend so much time focused on curriculum and making sure students are getting a certain experience in the classroom, so this reminds students that our faculty members are human beings. Often times they have amazing stories and great anecdotes that they can share with the students."
Haas’ lecture theme was based on the idea that all people are affected by the people and events around them. If that’s the case, then the reverse should be true; that each of us has the opportunity to influence the people and events around us. "I want to have a positive impact on the people and places around me," Haas said. "Throughout my life, I’ve been influenced by the people around me. Those interactions have shaped who I am. As I get older I try to use what I’ve learned to shape what is important to me." The professor urged listeners to surround themselves with people who have a positive impact. He cited his parents, brothers, friends, teachers, students, and wife Kate, as the people who have been most influential in his life. Haas gave a personal account of his life, and discussed some of the key people and events that have shaped him. Two high school teachers encouraged Haas’ interest in history by showing him that studying the subject can be a fun exploration. One of those teachers even allowed Haas to teach a class about World War II to his 11th grade classmates. "He showed me that you can take risks as a teacher and be experimental," Haas said. "I learned that historians should be fair and honest. And I also learned that historians should grind their political axes on their own time and not in the classroom." The son of an architect and schoolteacher, Haas said he was raised to value education and friendship. "My parents showed me how to develop lifelong friendships," Haas said, adding that they also taught their children to love learning. Both Penn State University graduates, Haas’ parents also raised him to adore the school and its famed football team. When it came time for college, Haas said, he applied to only one institution. "Good thing I got in," Haas said with a laugh. The professor earned both his bachelor’s and master’s degrees at Penn State. A member of Chesapeake’s faculty since 2004, Haas said he appreciates the teachers and mentors who encouraged him to take risks and step outside his comfort zone. Such risks, he has learned, can keep careers from becoming stale. With challenging experiences, Haas said, we can continue to learn and develop new skills or interests. Haas encouraged the audience to be generous with praise, look for something positive in every situation, and to live in the moment. "Enjoy those special moments in life and take it all in. Express your emotions and share those experiences with others before they become memories," Haas said.