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Falconer addresses assembly at Last Lecture

John Falconer examined division in relationships at the 2019-20 Last Lecture.


UNK faculty and students gathered on a Thursday night for the Mortar Board’s Last Lecture event. Community as Culture: Organizational Theory and Collective Well-Being was examined by the selected speaker, Dr. John Falconer, the senior advisor to the chancellor. 

The Xi Phi chapter of the Mortar Board was proud of the event’s impact. 

“We threw out names of faculty members that we thought would give good advice for the future,” said junior Hannah Way who is majoring in chemistry and is a member of the Last Lecture Committee. “After talking about it for a few weeks, our selection was made clear with Dr. Falconer as the best choice.”

The Mortar Board is a national honor society that commends seniors in college for representing the three pillars of scholarship, leadership, and service. The Xi Phi chapter operates at UNK. Students are able to apply when they have enough credits to achieve senior standing for the next academic year.

The Last Lecture is an annual event held by the Mortar Board for which an impactful UNK faculty member is selected to present on a topic.

“We thought that Dr. Falconer represented the three main pillars that we value,” said Bryant Menke, a senior majoring in chemistry and the Xi Phi chapter president. “The main things that I took away from his speech were practicing tolerance and having a point of view that is more accepting of others.”

In his intro, Falconer explained his love of sailing as a prelude to many of the analogies he would later use. 

“I have been known to perform shocking mental gymnastics to work sailing into a conversation,” said Falconer. “At one point, my fanatic interests led me to acquire a second boat, turning my one boat into a fleet. And since I owned a fleet, that meant that I could be identified as a commodore.”

UNK’s self-proclaimed commodore, which is defined as a highly ranked naval officer, organized his speech into the subtopics of getting along, tolerance, being wrong, generalizing our advantages, and values. 

Falconer said that previously, he mentioned tolerance in a speech and left thinking that he had more to say on the subject. The Last Lecture presented him with the opportunity. 

When discussing the importance of getting along, Falconer described a bridge or a tall building that is torn down by natural disasters. Similarly, relationships are challenged if two people having a bad day. Tolerance is a factor that can prevent “stress spillover,” which is when stress causes someone to act irritated towards others.

Being tolerant and accepting of others begins with recognizing that we are all wrong, especially when arguing about beliefs or political opinions. Falconer reminded his audience that we must understand our own backgrounds and advantages to understand each other. People were surprised and curious when he challenged Way to a footrace during his speech.

“Pretend that Hannah and I are high school seniors racing and the reward for winning is a full-ride to college,” Falconer said. “Now, let’s say that I have a safe school environment, a loving home, and a middle-class income supporting me.” 

With each advantage listed, Falconer took a few steps closer to the finish line, leaving Way with less of a chance of winning. To the disappointment of many, Falconer and Way did not actually race, but the analogy put the blessing of a college education into perspective. 

In his closing statement, the “commodore” concluded by relating relationships to his sailing experiences.

“My wife, Tracy, and I took up sailing about eight years ago, and the way we worked through tense situations got me thinking about our relationship,” said Falconer. “Stress doesn’t have to wear away at a relationship because it can also strengthen it. I hope that one day the pendulum will swing back, and we can once again identify as members of a community rather than a party.”

Falconer is extremely flattered to have been selected to give the Last Lecture of 2019-20, and he would like to thank all who attended.

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