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UNCP historian Jeff Frederick gives ‘Last Lecture’

May 8, 2014

Dr. Jeff Frederick admitted that he was not sure how much his audience learned from his “last lecture” on April 9. But everyone in the room, including his family, will attest that he followed his own advice and did his best.       

Dr. Frederick, a history professor at UNC Pembroke, delivered the 4th annual Last Lecture in the Givens Performing Arts Center. He got the job because students, like Darian Formy-Duval, love his classes.

Darian Formy-Duval, who chaired the student selection committee for the Last Lecture, gives Dr. Jeff Frederick a plaque to honor the event.

DarianFormy-Duval, who chaired the student selection committee for the Last Lecture, gives Dr. Jeff Frederick a plaque to honor the event.

“When we started the selection process last semester, I did not know who Dr. Frederick was,” said Formy-Duval, who chaired the student selection committee. “When I needed a history course this semester, I picked his class because I recognized his name.

“I hate history,” the freshmen admitted. “But his enthusiasm is phenomenal. He makes history come alive. Dr. Frederick is awesome. He really deserves this award.”

The concept dates to a 2007 last lecture by Randy Pausch, a terminally ill computer science professor at MIT. It poses a hypothetical question that was appealing to Dr. Frederick.

The historian said he wanted to “talk about a few things that matter to me.” He selected three things - the importance of: 1) seeking your identity; 2) doing your best; and 3) doing good.

Historians are by nature consumed by the question of identity, and as a Southern historian, Dr. Frederick had a few things to say about the identity of this region. Southerners are typically poorer, undereducated, more religious, more violent, more rural and less likely to vote, he said.

“We’re country folk, and we don’t apologize for it,” Dr. Frederick said. “There is a certain geographical place that makes sense to us. We call that our “sense of place.”

“We’re great at fried food and pretty hospitable too,” Dr. Frederick said. “If you have a flat tire, it’s better to be in the South because Southerners are more likely to pull over and help you.”

Dr. Frederick believes that the 21st century is the best time in American history for seeking and finding one’s true identity. “In the 21st century, we are freer today than at any time,” he said. “You get to pick what matters to you. It might not be easy, but you need to do it. You need to answer the fundamental question of who you are. (At UNCP), we will help you do that.

“If you don’t do that, here is the problem,” he said. “Somebody else will tell you who you are and who you should be.”

Dr. Frederick did not leave the question of identity there. He defined himself as a competitor, a writer, a man of faith, a husband and a father.

“Whoever you are, be happy with who you are,” he said. “The world needs us to be the way we want to be. Stand your ground, plant your feet and decide who you are.”

If you do your best, Dr. Frederick said, “you’ll achieve - and good things will happen to you. You might reach your potential. You might end up happy because you have figured out your identity and done your best.

“Doing your best is your responsibility to the most important person in your life, yourself,” he said.

The American experience is defined by the quest to be the best, Dr. Frederick said, but it has not always done the best, as evidenced by our treatment of minorities and American Indians, our history of slavery and disenfranchisement of various groups, among other regrettable pieces of our history. Doing your best does not always result in being the best unless we adhere to Dr. Frederick’s third principle, which is to “do good.”

“Treating others the way you would be treated is the root concept of society,” he said. “The most critical thing is to find a way to serve. I am committed to serving others, but that does not make me good – I’m just doing good.

“I hope my kids were listening,” Dr. Frederick said. “This lecture is just as much for my own children.”

His three sons sat in the audience, smiling, laughing and openly proud of their father, who, the university community hopes, has many lectures left.