Speaker encourages passionate learning

March 3, 2005

By MANDY WIGGINS, reporter

Associate Dean Elizabeth Vardaman spoke to an eager audience at the Last Lecture Series on Wednesday in Alexander Residence Hall's reading room.

The Last Lecture Series is a biannual event that offers selected exemplary Baylor University faculty members the opportunity to lecture on a topic of their choice as if it were their last lecture.

Vardaman is the faculty representative for a number of national and international scholarship competitions, including the Rhodes, Marshall, Gates, Rotary, Truman and Jack Kent Cooke, among others.

As a writer and an editor, she has managed the production of Collegium, the magazine for the College of Arts and Sciences, for several years.

Courtney Dunn | Lariat staff
Associate Dean Elizabeth Vardaman encourages students to make the most of college on Wednesday in Alexander Residence Hall reading room.
She has taught at Baylor since 1981 and was chosen as the Outstanding Faculty Member of 2002-2003 by the Student Life Division.

In 2001, the Baylor Alumni Association selected her to receive the W.R. White Award for Meritorious Service.

Baylor named her the Outstanding Non-tenured Teacher for 1992-1993. Vardaman has taught in China and the Netherlands, and she managed the Baylor British Isles Program with her husband.

"She has a great passion for learning," Dr. Thomas Hibbs, dean of the honors college, said.

Vardaman said she was very pleased when they asked her to be this spring's last lecturer.

The title of Vardaman's speech was "Love Calls Us to the Things of This World." She focused on some elements of college that prepare students for the world beyond Baylor.

When asked why she chose this topic Vardaman said, "I spent some time reviewing in my mind the topics that were the most important to me.

"It was great fun to think about that," she said.

"At the same time, it wasn't all that easy to decide which one of these were the most important if I really had only one more chance to speak to students at Baylor."

Her love for Baylor and the students was evident throughout her lecture. She said she feels she has been fortunate to spend the majority of her career at Baylor.

She started by saying she hopes to help students manage their four years at college, which will lead to the rest of their lives.

"Since I work with a lot of students that are trying to maximize their college experience, I decided that there are a lot of important principles that go with that," she said.

Vardaman said some students have a "fire in their belly" when it comes to knowledge. She explained these are the students who have found their passion.

She asked the audience, "Who's going to light your fire?"

Vardaman offered some helpful advice to those students who are struggling to find their voice. She told them to find a mentor -- someone who will be honest and forgiving while helping you at the same time.

Next, she spoke avidly on the subject of students opening themselves up to find their calling.

"You must put yourself in the way of the gift, whatever it may be," she said.

By students putting themselves "in the way," they are giving themselves the chance to find their voice.

Camisha Parham, a Fort Worth sophomore, said she felt the topic Vardaman chose was very appropriate.

"College is a time when you're trying to find the balance between things that you want and things that you need," Parham said.

Vardaman said students should look inside themselves to see ways to live life meaningfully.

"You are in life not only called to have an inner life spiritual, but you find your way to live out in the world something that is central to who you are," Vardaman said.

Associate Dean Vardaman concluded her lecture by reading the poem from which she chose her title of the lecture.

"God bless you as you become the person and poem you were meant to be," she said.

Students said the Vardaman was an effective speaker and her words left an impact.

"The lecture was more than I expected," Parham said. "Her enthusiasm is evident in more than her words. You can tell that she lives life passionately."

Matthew Langston, a Valley Mills senior, said Vardaman's points made sense and seemed aimed at the college crowd.

"The part that stood out to me was when she spoke of finding out who you are and what direction you would like to take as a student," he said.