We can all look back on our lives and pinpoint a key moment or decision that changed the course of our lives and led us to where we are now. This was Professor Louis Grivetti’s main message in his Last Lecture titled “From Dinosaurs to Chocolate: Taking the Road Less Traveled.”
His lecture on Tuesday was part of ASUCD’s Last Lecture Series, hosted by the Academic Affairs Commission (AAC). This honors the late Dr. Randy Pausch, the professor at Carnegie Mellon who gave his last lecture called “Really Achieving Your Childhood Dreams,” which was subsequently turned into a book called The Last Lecture. This book is an inspiration to millions of people and has inspired UCD’s Last Lecture Series.
“We aim to provide students with the opportunity to get acquainted with and learn
from professors in an unconventional, no-textbook-required way and we strive to honor exceptional professors on the UC Davis campus,” said Annemarie Stone, chair of the Academic Affairs Commission and junior English major. “So my favorite portion of the event is when I see that both of these goals are being met. Since this university is so huge, I think that feelings of alienation and apathy are common, and this event strives to check that issue of a growing gap between students and professors.”
Professor Grivetti’s lecture was promising from the start. After the professor himself came down the aisle to thank everyone for attending, baskets of chocolate were passed around for everyone to take samples. Anything involving chocolate must be good so naturally this had audiences even more intrigued. After the AAC and a former student introduced Professor Grivetti, the lecture began.
Professor Grivetti began his talk by saying that there is nothing more important than the “willingness to take risks,” because that is how he has gotten to where he is today. He began the lecture by describing his childhood dream of studying dinosaurs and his efforts in his undergraduate years toward achieving this. His recollections about his college days were very entertaining. In particular, he described the importance of general education courses, saying to all the undergraduates, “Never underestimate the value of G.E. classes.” Of course we hear people say this all the time, but now Professor Grivetti has given a real example.
He then went on to talk about a job he landed in Egypt which changed the course of his life. This new job was not about dinosaurs — it had to do with nutrition and geology, something very different than what he studied. It just goes to show that we can never predict anything. During this portion of his career, Grivetti describes his experience of being an American in Egypt during the Six-Day War between Egypt and Israel. He very smoothly tied in important historical events with the course of his own life so we got a real sense of his experience. This was just one of many instances that had an impact on his life. It gave a sense of how much we are impacted by the world around us.
After this, Grivetti elaborated on his career after he returned from Egypt and the path that led him to Davis. He initially came to Davis as a postdoctoral student in geography and was later hired as a professor in both the geology and nutrition departments. This path eventually led him to study the history of chocolate, and so the journey from dinosaurs to chocolate finally makes sense.
He showed a particular enthusiasm for presenting the work of his graduate students and presented several exceptional projects. This accounts for the nearly-full auditorium of the ARC Ballroom, where the lecture took place.
Just from hearing this Last Lecture, it is clear that Professor Grivetti is an exceptional professor with a passion for his work and students. His eloquence and sense of humor made the event very enjoyable and inspirational.
Professor Grivetti ended the lecture on an amusing note, in which he presented a dinosaur bone he found when he was very young and invited audiences to come and touch it.
“Professor Grivetti was so excited about his lecture and demonstrated so much enthusiasm for it and his work that I knew it was going to be a great event,” said Stephanie Johnson, sophomore political science major and a member of the Academic Affairs Commission.
Professor Grivetti’s last slide summed up the awestruck and inspirational sentiment of the evening: “We stand on the shoulders of giants; we owe our careers to those who went before us.”
PAAYAL ZAVERI can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.