The Eulogy Virtues Valued in Life

This is a photo of the cover of David Brooks's latest book, The Road to Character, 2015. David Brooks has been challenging young people lately to think about more than what he calls the “résumé virtues.” His latest book is called The Road to Character, and he has been touring the country to talk about what’s more important than the many small steps we take in advancing our careers. Which matters more: what people think or say about your résumé, or what people will say at your funeral?

Brooks argues that so many of us today focus on the wrong things — on getting the next notch in our belts — when what we should be developing are the eulogy virtues. In the end, people usually don’t care about this or that promotion you earned. The bigger house you bought rarely comes up at a funeral. What matters most to people are the qualities of your character, not the quantities in your bank account.

Brooks’s message especially to young professionals and those aspiring to be them resonates with me. First of all, Aristotle noted that happiness is something that can only really be measured in terms of a person’s whole life. When we say we are happy, in everyday language, we are primarily talking about how we feel right now. What makes for a happy life, however, is not a certain number of happy-feeling-moments. We can endure great challenges for the right reasons and be happy about what we have contributed. The feeling is less the issue, however. What matters, as Brooks notes, is our character.

With a focus on professionalism today, one can certainly make a great deal more money going into any number of careers than one earns as a teacher. So some other force pushes people into that line of work. As I said in my last post, I’ve been very fortunate to feel appreciated at the University of Mississippi. Recently, a number of students added to that very kindly.

The funny thing about moving, as Annie and I soon will, is that you get a glimpse of people’s appreciation of the eulogy virtues, but without the dying part.

The logo of the University of Mississippi's Student Alumni Council.The Student Alumni Council at the University of Mississippi is a clever organization, in which current students are involved in the work of the alumni association — hook’em early, they say. It’s a great idea, actually, for networking purposes as well as for opportunities for student leadership. Yes, those are related to résumé virtues. The group is more meaningful than that, however. They organize an event each spring (though I don’t know how long this has been going on) where they recognize mentors, hosting a “Random Acts of Kindness” event. When I received my invitation, I joked to myself that I generally intend my acts of kindness to be thoughtful and purposeful, rather than random.

The event was lovely. One student at a time got up to say a few words about a mentor he or she wanted to recognize on campus with a Random Act of Kindness award. Next, two students got up to say that they had both nominated a certain professor. It was heartwarming. We do this work because we believe in it. It’s icing on the cake when people actually show you appreciation for it. When the time came, I was taken aback by three students who each got up to say some deeply thoughtful and kind things about our work together. I got a taste of the value of the eulogy virtues, without having to die, when Mary Kate Berger, Natalie King, and Rod Bridges each spoke eloquently and kindly in their explanations for their nominations for me.

I feel profoundly fortunate to have worked with great people in Mississippi. I also am more confident that Brooks and Aristotle are right. Character is the most important thing we can cultivate. The funny thing that so many people miss, however, is that attending to one’s own happiness really comes down to attending to the same for others. I can’t think of a more rewarding opportunity than to help others to shape their character.

Thank you again, Rod, Mary Kate, and Natalie (left to right in the photo)!

This is a photo of Rod Bridges, Mary Kate Berger, Eric Thomas Weber, and Natalie King at the UM 2016 Student Alumni Council 'Random Acts of Kindness' event.


‘View from Ventress’ – Nice Announcements

View From Ventress, 2015It’s hard for a big institution to show appreciation for all the people who deserve it. Given that, I feel fortunate. The College of Liberal Arts has issued its 2015 ‘View from Ventress’ publication, in which it announced awards over the last year. This past year was an exciting one, as in February, the MS Humanities Council issued me their Public Humanities Scholar award and in September my book came out, Uniting Mississippi.

The college noted both in a very nice piece they put together in this yearly fall publication. If you click here or on the image on right, you can open a PDF of the page with the announcement.

Otherwise, you can open the whole ‘View from Ventress’ file online, opened to that page here. I think the college was very kind with this announcement. On top of that, I think they did a lovely job making the announcement, connecting with the substance of my work. That took care and sincere interest. I feel fortunate and motivated to pass along to others appreciation for what they do, given that it’s nice when folks make that effort.

The artwork that the Mississippi Humanities Council commissioned to serve as an award plaque for the 2015 Humanities Scholar Award I received. The artwork depict Jackson, Mississippi's Old Capitol building.

This is the beautiful work of art that the Mississippi Humanities Council commissioned to serve as a plaque for the 2015 Humanities Scholar Award I was honored to receive in February. The event and the honor were deeply meaningful and encouraging.

Receiving the 2012 Thomas F. Frist Student Service Award

Copyright 2012, Kaylen Addison, who caught the moment when I was handed the award.

Photo of the plaque that I received from the university for the award.It was an honor to have been chosen for the 2012 Thomas F. Frist Student Service Award at the University of Mississippi. PPL graduate Kaylen Addison snapped this great photo of the moment when I was up at the podium to receive the award.

The next pic is the plaque, featuring the university’s colors.

I also got a photo with then-Chancellor Dan Jones, who has been highly encouraging and supportive. In fact, he wrote one of the endorsements for Uniting Mississippi.


Dean Glenn Hopkins and Weber, receiving the Cora Lee Graham Award for Teaching.

The College of Liberal Arts at the University of Mississippi kindly selected my teaching for the Cora Lee Graham Award in 2010. Dean Hopkins has since retired. He was a very supportive dean, who on a number of occasions supported my research and service work in significant ways.