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Self-Reflective Talk Offers ‘How-to’ Hints on Personal Satisfaction

As the latest Pennsylvania College of Technology faculty member chosen to deliver the David London My Last Words Lecture, Jacob R. Miller shared a simple barometer of student success: “I would like to think that, at the end of every day, no matter what they have done that day, they can face themselves in the mirror.”

Drawing from life lessons, Jacob R. Miller advises students not to "dwell on failure, but own up to your shortcomings."
Drawing from life lessons, Jacob R. Miller advises students not to “dwell on failure, but own up to your shortcomings.”

Mindful that the lecture series has traditionally taken a mortality-driven tone – What would you tell students if you knew it was your last time to speak with them? – the associate professor and department head of computer information technology noted he had ample material from which to fashion such a speech.

In recent years, Miller told his Klump Academic Center Auditorium audience, he experienced a cardiac “incident” while under anesthesia for routine surgery and lost a fingertip in a table-saw accident that nonetheless left him able to “still count to 9 7/8” without taking off his shoes.

From injury to inspiration, Jacob R. Miller tells how a woodshop accident focused his message.
From injury to inspiration, Jacob R. Miller tells how a woodshop accident focused his message.

Although he realized how much more serious either situation could have been, Miller said the concept of “legacy” helped him draft a less-morbid message.

He chose instead to look at other life-altering transitions that students experience: commencement, full-time employment and new lives far beyond campus.

Miller gave due credit to the parents, friends and mentors who laid the groundwork for his students, but proudly noted his own paternalistic contribution to their development and asked, “What influence would I have liked to have?”

An audience of campus supporters, including the speaker's students and colleagues in the School of Industrial, Computing & Engineering Technologies, pays close attention.
An audience of campus supporters, including the speaker’s students and colleagues in the School of Industrial, Computing & Engineering Technologies, pays close attention.

While honed in the private sector and in public education, his insights encompassed the variety of hats he has worn throughout his life – Boy Scout, father, IT professional, co-worker, mentor and teacher, among them. Narrowing his considerable life experiences to a digest of helpful advice from a working-world perspective, he prescribed six basic rules for his students to follow: Be honest in all your dealings; leave things as good as you found them; give informed advice, but let people make their own decisions; strive for and contribute to the common good; be willing to take risks, but understand the risk you are taking; and live and let live.

And through it all, he made it clear that his priorities lie with Penn College enrollees and the employers who will hire them.

“If I don’t serve the students effectively,” he said, “the rest doesn’t matter.”

The plaque presentation, beneath a closing slide of Miller and "the man in the mirror"
The plaque presentation, beneath a closing slide of Miller and “the man in the mirror”

Near the close of his speech, Miller offered a tangible example that his philosophy is solidly on-track. During a network-security conference at which a Penn College student discussed an internship project, he was called aside by the young man’s manager – and, eventually, by a top company administrator – who told him of the student’s admirable work ethic, maturity, professionalism and responsibility.

“‘I want you to send me more interns,'” Miller said he was told by the CEO. “That made me smile … and made me very proud of ‘my kids.'”

Lecture attendees enjoy refreshments in Wrapture following the "My Last Words" presentation.
Lecture attendees enjoy refreshments in Wrapture following the “My Last Words” presentation.

The speaker was introduced by Benjamin S. Welch, an information technology: information assurance and security concentration major from State College, one of three students who nominated him for the prestigious campus honor.

Sara H. Ousby, associate director of student activities for diversity and cultural life, presented Miller with a plaque noting his embodiment of attributes important to London, an associate professor of speech communication/composition who died in May 2008.

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

Video of Miller’s presentation is available on the college’s YouTube channel.

 

Photos by Abdullah H. Muaddi, student photographer

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