Northwestern University Last Lecture June 2015

The world was introduced to the idea of core memories in Disney Pixar’s brilliant movie, Inside Out. Protagonist Riley’s core memories were precious and glowing orbs, kept in a place of honor in ‘Headquarters,’ and they held those memories that capture the essence of who Riley is. We all have core memories– those moments that are entered into the story of our life as significant, powerful, unforgettable. Being elected by the Northwestern University Class of 2015 to deliver the Last Lecture, the culminating event of Senior Week, has become a core memory for me!

Humor me for a moment as I regale you with the story of how I, a middle-aged, suburban wife and mother of two, ended up taking my first selfie and my first “Fireball” shot — and having an excruciatingly in depth conversation about personal grooming. Last Lecture is the culminating event of the graduation ritual of Senior Week, and it involves delivering words of wisdom…on stage… in a bar across from Wrigley Field in Chicago… to an audience of almost a thousand 22-year-olds.

Despite being a seasoned public speaker at this point, I couldn’t believe how nervous I was in the days leading up to the event. The wonders of positive self-talk and belly breathing gave me the courage I needed to take the stage and deliver my seven-point treatise about healthy intimate relationships called Next Chapter: Brave Love. If you wanna, the talk is available on my YouTube channel. At the end of my talk, I made the spontaneous decision to take a picture of myself with this sea of Millennials behind me. I wanted to capture this moment but also felt embarrassed and worried the veil would drop and they would see once and for all how truly uncool I am. Instead, they went crazy—cheering like mad and waving their arms. Some of them shouted “Professor Solomon, over here!” asking me to face different directions to catch them in the background of said selfie.

When I stepped off stage, students lined up to talk with me and take group photos. What a feeling! It did, however, mean that I was faced with the question that had me teetering on all sorts of slippery slopes: “Professor Solomon, will you do a shot with us?” My mind raced with professional questions (Can I lose my faculty appointment for this?) as well as personal ones (Can I handle a shot? I am pretty sure I haven’t done one since the 1990s).

And that’s how I spent the next couple hours of this alternate-universe kind of night, mingling and laughing with the Class of 2015. We talked about everything—life, work, love, sex. There was even a hilarious conversation about waxing… like personal, bikini-type waxing. I’ll spare you the details, but suffice it to say, I learned quite a bit. To add an incredibly special layer, my husband, Todd, was there with me. In a long-term marriage, those moments when each can bear witness to the other doing their thing, lit up from the inside, and full of passion, are like gold. I went home feeling quite confident that I was the luckiest person alive!

Woven into this core memory is my deep gratitude for being given the opportunity to feel intense fear and to find my courage to do it anyways. This experience also deepened my appreciation for the work I do with the Marriage 101 course. I believe deeply and passionately in giving young adults the time and space they desire to learn about, think about, and talk about love. I know that I will carry this gratitude and appreciation into my next teaching of the course. Hooray for core memories!