UVA Darden Professor Offers Three Life Lessons in ‘Last Lecture’ for Students

By Jay Hodgkins

The first months of the University of Virginia Darden School of Business education experience are known for their intensity. That might feel like an understatement for the First Year students in the middle of it.

But as students live through the experience with a section of about 60 other First Years, tight bonds form quickly. That much was apparent in early May when Class of 2017 Section A students, just weeks from graduation and more than a year past their classroom experience together, lobbied their First Year Marketing Professor Luca Cian to join them in class one last time.

Cian was an apt choice, as he joined Darden as a professor in 2015 and shared his first day in a Darden classroom with them.

The Class of 2017 Section A gathers with their First Year Marketing professor, Luca Cian, after their “last lecture.”

Sitting in their original classroom in seats assigned to them on their first day of class in August 2015, the students listened, laughed and even shed a few tears as Cian offered his “last lecture.”

“During First Year, they became friends, they supported each other and they became a community,” Cian said. “In Second Year, everyone has taken different internships, different electives, different paths, but they missed being together as a section, so they organized a last lecture to be ‘Section A’ one last time. This represents many of the values Darden stands for.”

Cian’s lecture — a rarity at Darden where the case method prevails in the classroom — was formed around three pieces of advice, based on his own experience, that the professor invited his former students to consider as they advance in their professional careers.

Always Keep Your Mind Open to New Points of View

Raised in a small town in the north of Italy near Austria where most of the villagers looked different than him and had deeper roots in the area, Cian said he grew up feeling like an outsider. He said his parents were also polar opposites, often offering him totally different viewpoints on the same issues.

But those early experiences taught him the value of seeing things in the world from a different perspective. In fact, Cian’s ability to value a different approach led him as a Ph.D. candidate to send an unconventional email to a renowned marketing professor whom he sought as an adviser. The professor said he usually ignored similar requests, but the email was so unique that he decided to reply, ultimately agreeing to advise Cian. That one email changed the course of his life, Cian said.

“All the big changes in my life were due to thinking in a different way, a more creative way,” Cian told the students. “Every one of us wants to be more creative and innovative, but I’ve learned it’s a skill. What I invite you to do from now on is to exercise your skill. Try and see things from a different point of view.”

Reject Fear and Doubt, and Dare to Reach for Greatness

When Cian completed his Ph.D. at the University of Michigan, he could have accepted job offers to begin his career as a professor. However, he felt he had more to learn to become one of the best in his field and instead continued post-doctoral work at Michigan.

When his post-doc research stagnated and his father died back home in Italy, Cian said he became overwhelmed with doubts. That’s when he remembered a time when his father told him: “There are people who are scared of everything, even their own shadow. You shouldn’t even fear death. Because if you’re not afraid of anything, then you are able to achieve the ultimate freedom.”

His father’s advice seemed cryptic at first, Cian said, but began to make sense when Cian’s fears were clouding the path he hoped to follow.

“It’s very natural to have a lot of fears in your life. But if you really want to do something, to be bold, to dare, you cannot have fears,” Cian told the students. “You have only two options: Either you just accept the status quo and say I am too fearful to change anything. Or you say, no, I want to be bold, I want to do something. At that moment, your mind will be full of fears, but you have to find a way to let them go. Be fearless.”

Seize the Moment

Cian said one of the most valuable exercises he ever undertook was to write down a list of his values and what he hoped to achieve in life, then also write down how and by what means he could achieve his goals.

In the pursuit of those goals — anyone’s goals — Cian said routine becomes an enemy. “If you just live your daily routine, you will lose your purpose,” he said. He urged students to say “no” to routine things that suck energy and time and that don’t bring passion or joy to their lives, and he quoted Friedrich Nietzsche in urging them to be so enthusiastic about what they are doing in life that they would be willing to repeat the moments of their life for eternity.

“My final invitation is for you to have a personality that is always thirsty for life,” Cian told the students. “Be passionate and enthusiastic about the things you’re going to do in life, and a personality that always burns, burns, burns.”

About the University of Virginia Darden School of Business

The University of Virginia Darden School of Business prepares responsible global leaders through unparalleled transformational learning experiences. Darden’s graduate degree programs (MBA, MSBA and Ph.D.) and Executive Education & Lifelong Learning programs offered by the Darden School Foundation set the stage for a lifetime of career advancement and impact. Darden’s top-ranked faculty, renowned for teaching excellence, inspires and shapes modern business leadership worldwide through research, thought leadership and business publishing. Darden has Grounds in Charlottesville, Virginia, and the Washington, D.C., area and a global community that includes 18,000 alumni in 90 countries. Darden was established in 1955 at the University of Virginia, a top public university founded by Thomas Jefferson in 1819 in Charlottesville, Virginia.


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