Associate Dean Paul Orser (’69) shared his life lessons during his Last Lecture talk on April 25th. He took some time last week to sit down with me and share his thoughts and opinions on higher education, what it was like to be married as a college junior, and why we won’t see him texting anytime soon.
When Dr. Paul Orser’s parents dropped him off as a brand spankin’ new freshman at Wake Forest College (yes, college!) in 1965, it was the last time he would see them on campus until commencement. Admittedly, he doesn’t remember much of commencement, but there are pictures to prove that they were in attendance.
Throughout those four years as a Wake undergrad, he would pursue a passion for biology, get to know other students and faculty that would become close friends and mentors, become a Sig Ep, and ultimately develop a passion for higher education that would draw him back to Wake Forest University years later.
Dr. Orser spent three of his four years as a Wake undergrad living in Poteat, at a time when there was one payphone in the dorm (no iPhones, folks), no Thinkpads, no Benson or Olin, and a completely different ZSR façade.
He describes the Wake Forest of the 60’s as a place where people always greeted one another in passing.
“If somebody said ‘hey,’ they were from the south. If somebody said ‘hi,’ they were from the north,” he says. “And yet, everybody greeted everybody, because it was a way of saying, ‘I might not know you, but welcome to our community.’”
So how have things changed in 2012?
“I almost ran over a student texting while I was driving here today,” he remarks.
Before taking up his current position as Associate Dean for Student Academic Initiatives, Dr. Orser worked in Admissions, Public Affairs, and as Associate Dean and Dean of Freshman.
Now, twenty-three years after returning to the university as a faculty member, he’s about to say adios to the job he loves. What that really means is that he’s saying goodbye to the community where he has formed life-long friendships, counseled thousands of students, and seen first-hand why Wake Forest is the place to be if you’re looking for a fantastic liberal arts education.
In his “Last Lecture,” he describes the numerous mentors that he’s acquired during his time at Wake – professors who believed in him and helped him find his life’s passions. He expresses gratitude for the lasting friendships he’s made at the university, and why those are so valuable (“You don’t get to pick your family, but you get to pick your friends”). He laments our increasing reliance on technology, reminding the audience that it is in fact possible to speak to the other person in the room, rather than keeping their eyes glued to cellphone and computer screens. And of course, Dr. Orser describes a life spent doing what he loves – helping students – at the place he loves – Wake Forest.
As he moves into the next phase of his life (Dr. Orser insists that his plans for retirement are “not to retire!”), his impact on the university and so many students’ lives will not be soon forgotten.