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Faculty Member Chooses ‘Last Words’ From Rich Wellspring of Reminiscence


Drawing from a figurative and literal backpack, a Pennsylvania College of Technology faculty member chosen to deliver this year’s David London My Last Words Lecture encouraged his audience to explore the topic “What Are You Full Of? (The Things We Carry),” Thursday evening in the Klump Academic Center Auditorium.

Bruce A. Wehler, assistant professor of English composition, led listeners through a range of stories and anecdotes and shared the meaning he has extracted from numerous personal experiences from the tragic to the triumphant. “Experiences shape us … but we shape the meaning of those experiences,” he said.

Tipping his hand about the lecture's sum and substance, Bruce A. Wehler talks about his love of Jesus, Penn College, Penn State and carbohydrates.
Tipping his hand about the lecture’s sum and substance, Bruce A. Wehler talks about his love of Jesus, Penn College, Penn State and carbohydrates.

During the talk, Wehler pulled objects from a backpack including a Penn College sweatshirt and a wedding ring, representing the need to “surround yourself with people who love you and challenge you to be a better person”; a starfish, representing humans’ regenerative abilities; and a piece of “fake poop” as a reminder to “let go of the crap.”

Sharing family photos, he advised the audience that “my family might not look like yours” due to its diverse blend of “three biological and six adopted children of color.” Wehler told stories of the different experiences various family members have faced due to society’s “external focus on appearances.”

A Penn College sweatshirt and a wedding ring are among the objects (and the memories) evocatively drawn upon.
A Penn College sweatshirt and a wedding ring are among the objects (and the memories) evocatively drawn upon.

He challenged his audience to engage fully in the richness of life by committing themselves to getting to know others and listening to their stories.

“Don’t limit yourselves to people who look like you,” Wehler urged. “Listen to the stories of those who are different from you, who worship differently, whose status or station in life differs from your own. What I’m asking is that we listen to each other’s stories.”

Quoting Mary Pipher, an author and clinical psychologist, he advised, “Telling stories never fails to produce good in the universe.” He added that he’s particularly fond of the notion that “Laws can change people’s behaviors, but stories can change people’s hearts.”

Audience members – representing a cross-section of ages, backgrounds and viewpoints – enjoy Wehler's talk.
Audience members – representing a cross-section of ages, backgrounds and viewpoints – enjoy Wehler’s talk.

Among the intensely poignant stories the speaker shared with his audience was his loss of an infant daughter in 2008 as well as another agonizing hospital bedside vigil spent with the family of one of his students who had attempted and later succumbed to suicide.

“Life will break our hearts, but we cannot let it break our spirits,” he said, adding that often “we get stuck on the ‘Why?’ when we should focus instead on the ‘What now?’ and ‘What meaning will we create from this?’”

He urged listeners to look daily for spiritual meaning and foundation in life and to “invest in a cause.” Acts of service, he said, make people feel more alive, confident and joyful. Wehler said his cause is foster care, and he backed that up by offering an emotional plea and statistics related to the need for foster parents.

Student nominator Cole R. Shaffer introduces the evening's speaker.
Student nominator Cole R. Shaffer introduces the evening’s speaker.

The educator also infused his talk with humor. As one example, he showed a photograph of his favorite teacher review by a student. The student’s comment on Wehler was: “This guy really knows his sh**.” This stirred a great deal of laughter from the audience.

Wehler was introduced by his nominator, Cole R. Shaffer, a construction management junior from Hummelstown. Shaffer thanked his teacher for his support in the English classroom as well as in his career. Kimberly R. Cassel, director of student activities, welcomed the audience and presented Wehler with a plaque at the close of the program.

A reception in Wrapture, a dining area on the ACC’s first floor, followed.

A video of Wehler’s presentation will be available soon on the college’s YouTube channel.

Photos by Dalaney T. Vartenisian, student photographer

Comments

Jill Hanford,

Thank you for making the presentation available on YouTube. I heard it was wonderful. Can’t wait to view it!

Larry Leavitt,

Well, Bruce, you really are a dynamic speaker. Your passion for your topic was tempered by your personal life stories, which reinforced all of your talk. Kudos to you. Nice job.

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