The Symbiosis School for Liberal Arts (SSLA), as part of its annual year end celebrations of the academic year 2011-12, organized a student award ceremony and cultural night. Apart from awards for excellence in academic and non-academic fields and the cultural performances put up by the talented students, the evening featured an eminent Law Professor, Ms. Sonali Shrikhande, delivering the ‘Last Lecture’. The concept of the last lecture was popularized by Prof. Randy Pausch’ book of the same name, wherein he literally delivers his last lecture to his students after finding out that he was fighting a losing battle with cancer.
At SSLA though, the last lecture is an annual event where a faculty member is asked to address the assembled parents, students and dignitaries as though this were their final opportunity to say something to them. Ms. Shrikhande, who is part of the core Law Faculty at SSLA, was chosen by a democratic voting process conducted by the students of SSLA. All faculty that taught during the past academic year were eligible to be elected. Ms. Shrikhande’s ‘Indian Constitution’ course is amongst the most popular electives at SSLA, which is the home of India’s first Liberal Arts degree program.
The audience or the school could not have asked for a more impactful speech than that of Ms. Shrikhande’s on Friday evening. She chose to address the paradigm shift in education, as embodied by the Symbiosis School for Liberal Arts (SSLA) and how this transition should be made effectively. She stressed on the notion that an argumentative culture, which is essentially what a democracy ought to be, must be composed of citizens who not only can argue and reason effectively, but also possess the necessary intellectual virtues. Argumentation, if not nurtured with the intellectual virtues of empathy, understanding of others and the ability to correct oneself, can be self-defeating and anti-democratic.
The esteemed educator vowed to continue bringing about this educational paradigm shift in her teaching career while simultaneously imparting the necessary intellectual virtues to her students. Her ‘lecture’ was received with palpable admiration and respect as she conveyed what she hoped to with a flamboyance all her own.
SSLA will keep this tradition alive with the graduation of every passing batch. This powerful idea gives the faculty a platform to address the students in a serious setting regarding what is closest to them. While the speakers may be different with each passing year, the spirit of learning and the preservation of knowledge can only be strengthened with events like this.