Last Lecture series: Stefan Bradley speaks

African American studies professor Stefan Bradley was selected by the students to speak at the Last Lecture series. Allison Smith / Staf  Photographer

African American studies professor Stefan Bradley was selected by the students to speak at the Last Lecture series. Allison Smith / Staf Photographer

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Saint Louis University professor Stefan Bradley was chosen to deliver words of wisdom at the Last Lecture series. Every semester, students are given the chance to nominate a professor that they find to be an outstanding teacher and speaker.  The Last Lecture Series is a program that asks the selected professor, “If you knew this was the last lecture you would ever give, what would you share with students?”

African American studies professor Stefan Bradley was selected by the students to speak at the Last Lecture series. Allison Smith / Staf Photographer

Bradley is an associate professor of history and African American studies in the College of Arts and Sciences.

Bradley said he was honored to be given the opportunity to participate in the program, and he compared it to an actor receiving an Oscar and a musician receiving a Grammy.

“I’m an educator. I’m a professor,” Bradley said. “The fact that students would nominate me is one of the biggest things to ever happen to me.”

Addressing a full house on Monday, Nov. 14 in the Saint Louis Room of the Busch Student Center, Bradley began his speech with a personal background of his family.  According to him, sharing details of his life is a rarity, but Bradley said he found it necessary to describe his family in order to accurately explain the five life lessons featured in the lecture.

“These are the people who have made me. These are the people I’ve learned from,” Bradley said. “I’ll tell you a few of these lessons.”

Bradley kept his lecture light-hearted, making many jokes that caused the entire room to erupt in laughter. Originally from from Yakima, Wash., Bradley said he never forgets where he is from, especially when he is in his classes teaching students.

Bradley’s first life lesson was one he learned from his father.

“Leaders lead from the front,” Bradley said.

Bradley said that people should feel as though they have the ability to change the world, but that it will not happen when people bark orders from the back.

Bradley received the second life lesson from his mother: If an unavoidable conflict occurs, it must be faced head-on and not go down without a fight. Bradley said that at first, this lesson is not applied to violence, but instead to prepare people for future confrontations.

Bradley said another valuable lesson was that the further one goes in life, the more chances  that person has to reinvent himself. After explaining the various stages he went through in life, Bradley said the most important lesson he learned was to “be yourself.”

“You have to dance with the essence of you,” Bradley said.

Bradley learned his fourth life lesson while teaching at SLU.  According to him, a person should seek relevance over recognition. Bradley said he wants to be known for helping students, rather than for writing a book or receiving tenure.

“I guarantee that I will teach or personally influence the person that changes the world for the better,” Bradley said. “In that way, I’ll be relevant, and I’ll be useful.”

Bradley encountered his fifth and last life lesson from a pool hustler in a pool hall. Bradley said even a fool has a story to tell, and that this man had a story that would carry with Bradley forever.

“He said, ‘Always wear good shoes and drink good liquor,’” Bradley said.

Bradley said he asked the man what this meant, and learned to always wear good shoes because, if lucky, feet alone will carry a person through life. Bradley said it took him a long time to understand the second part about good liquor, but that he eventually decoded the meaning.

“You have to take care of the things and people that take care of you,” Bradley said.

Bradley said he has friends who take care of him all the time, and that the act of takine care of others can also be applied in the classroom. He said he loves his students because they inspire him do his best.

“Dr. Bradley’s speech was wonderful,” sophomore Keilah Johnson said.  “It was witty, funny and reflective. Even though I have not had the pleasure of having him as a teacher, I still felt as though his speech was relevant to all students.”

After learning Bradley’s life lessons and hearing about his hometown, the tag-line to this Last Lecture makes complete sense:

“Wear Good Shoes and Drink Good Liquor: Lessons from a Yakima Soul.”