Professor Sean Aday told a packed Marvin Center Amphitheatre to always think before “going into the hut” during GW’s Last Lecture Series Tuesday night.
Setting his story in Laos, Aday spoke about 45-year-old Francis, a doctor who invited Aday and his travel party to drinks, only to shock them at the end of the night by telling the travel party about how he entered a hut and let a young girl die.
“He [entered the hut] and found the girl dying. Her particular illness escapes me – I don’t even remember if he mentioned it – but it could have been treated with some basic antibiotics,” Aday said. “All he had to do was take the girl in his tuk tuk and go to the hospital. Instead he did nothing. He left the girl to die.”
The doctor reasoned that if he saved the girl, he would have been asked to provide antibiotics to the rest of the village as well.
Using the Laos story as a jumping point, Aday told students they should go into the hut, but know that after, they will be changed.
“Have as many experiences as you can, pushing yourself out of your comfort zone, all in an effort to better understand the world, the people in it, and your relationship and responsibilities to both,” he said. “Second, and just as important, always ask yourself why you’re doing this, why you’re living the life you’re living, why you’re not living a different life, whether you’re making the right decisions.”
The Last Lecture Series started at Carnegie Mellon University and gained notoriety when the now-famed professor Randy Pausch gave his Last Lecture while terminally ill. Pausch’s experience spurred GW to adopt the series, held the first Tuesday of every month. Aday said continuing this tradition made this lecture the most difficult he has ever written.
“How do you come up with something that reaches this standard without being unbelievably pretentious? This may be the most difficult part – avoiding the trap of self-parody,” he said.
And for Aday, this lecture took on even more importance, as next month he returns to war-torn Afghanistan, a place where he has previously dodged bullets and bombs, only to later hear about how his wife woke up crying, dreading that she would have to tell their children that he died.
“The work I’ve done in Iraq and Afghanistan involves training journalists how to be, for want of a better word, ‘good’ journalists,” he said. “It’s really quite moving, to be honest.”