Last Lecture offers opportunity to empower


The “Last Lecture” event offered Nicholls and UWO student Sam Sasin the opportunity to present the lecture they’d give if it was their last.

Josh Lehner, Assistant News Editor

What if you were given one last opportunity to address your friends, family and peers?

UW Oshkosh’s biannual Last Lecture series does just that.

Inspired by Carnegie Mellon University professor Randy Pausch’s last lecture, which he delivered after being diagnosed with terminal cancer, UWO’s two speakers presented the speech they’d give if it had to be their last.

This semester’s two speakers were UWO student Sam Sasin and assistant anthropology professor Heidi Nicholls, who both spoke about their childhood dreams and how they came to realize their passions.


Nicholls: One journey to empowerment and success

Nicholls said that she grew up in a loving family that helped shape her outlook.

“With a great family, I was allowed an opportunity to dream in all sorts of ways,” she said. “Our families have so much influence on how we dream.”

Nicholls had many childhood dreams, one of which was to become an astronaut.

“To me, space represented the dream beyond that I couldn’t touch,” she said.

Josh Lehner / Advance-Titan – Heidi Nicholls talks to a packed room about achieving her childhood dreams during last week’s Last Lecture series event.

She wanted to become a horse trainer like her grandfather, as well as a dancer who would be able to travel the world.

Nicholls also said that she wanted to become a researcher, showing a picture of a journal entry from sixth grade where she signed her name as “Dr.”

Though she was a good student through middle school, Nicholls said that she began to let academics slip in high school and would often skip class.

“I found out I was going to graduate high school the night before graduation,” she said.

And, though she enrolled in college, she’d often skip class and ended up flunking out. She tried college once more but failed again.

“So, I failed out of college twice,” she said. “I had a solid year of Fs on transcripts, and I had to pay the bill.”

While considering alternative options to college, her parents convinced her to try school one more time, and she began to do well.

“I spent that first year learning that I could do it,” she said. “I had some great professors who believed in me and told me that I should try college.”

She then transferred to Cleveland State University where, to pursue her dreams of becoming an astronaut, she decided to become an aeronautical engineer.

But things changed for Nicholls when she was encouraged to take a biological anthropology class, which related school to her childhood dream of becoming a dancer.

“I learned about how we move and about bipedalism,” she said. “I learned about how our tendons and muscles connect to our bones. That’s dance. Now, I could academically look at dance.”

Nicholls, who was double majoring, went to Guatemala to help document a language that was being lost in the Guatemalan genocides.

She also spent time in Anguilla — an island in the Caribbean Sea — and Costa Rica.

But after traveling, she decided to study at home while            working toward her PhD, which she eventually received.

“Suddenly I realized, as I was looking at my journey, and I graduated with my PhD, that I achieved the doctor dream.”

Nicholls said that she also achieved her dream to become a dancer, as she was on the dance team in college and, after graduating, joined the Cleveland Contemporary Dance Theater. She was also a choreographer for Bollywood Fusion performances.

Nicholls also accomplished her horse trainer dream in grad school when she joined the equestrian team.

She related her childhood dream to become an astronaut with her love for Star Wars and Marvel movies and shows.

“That’s how I experience space,” she said. “And you know what, not all dreams are necessarily meant to be achieved in the way you think. The process of going there is what teaches you the lesson.”

Nicholls said that there’s tremendous power in understanding and accomplishing childhood dreams, and she also encouraged everyone to engage in dialogue and learn about other people, cultures and practices.

“If you’re Republican, go watch the Democrats stuff and learn Democrat stuff,” she said. “If you’re a Democrat, go learn Republican stuff. If you are a Christian, go and learn about Islam and Buddhism. Only when we step outside of the ‘me’ are we able to able to start working on ‘we.’”


Sasin: Feel better, love better, grow better

At 13, Sasin said she started developing mental health issues. She started seeing a therapist and was diagnosed with persistent depressive disorder.

She also started developing anxiety-related issues and was suffering from emetophobia — the fear of vomiting.

Courtesy of Tori Deptula – Senior speaker Sam Sasin said making hard decisions equals growth. She was one of two presenters at Last Lecture on April 20.

“It got to the point where I was having multiple panic attacks a week,” she said. “It feels like you’re basically dying.”

Additionally, she said her family has a history of physical health issues. Through her rough patch, her main comfort was stuffed animals. Sasin showed a stuffed animal named Lamby, which she brought with her to the talk.

A woman who worked with Sasin’s grandfather gave him Lamby. Although she doesn’t know her, Sasin said that the woman had a massive impact on her.

“[Lamby has] been my greatest comfort in my darkest moments, but has also been there through all my triumphs,” she said. “If it wasn’t for this woman who worked with my grandfather, I wouldn’t have that.”

Sasin said she started bringing stuffed animals to school, since they provided her with a sense of comfort.

“I was bringing different stuffed animals every single day,” she said. “I realized that it was bringing other people joy, and that’s why I continued to do it. I didn’t necessarily need it for myself anymore.”

She said that stuffed animals have helped her to grow, especially during her journey at UWO.

Sasin was originally a computer science major but switched to radio/TV/film (RTF) in the second semester of her junior year.

“I decided to change my major because I was unhappy, uninspired and stressed out,” she said. “I had to make a hard decision, [but] you must do hard things in order to grow.”

Though her family was skeptical of the decision, she said that she persisted and rediscovered her passions for photography and videography through RTF.

“The point of all this is making hard decisions equals growth,” she said. “I think that we owe it to the people who built us up in our lives to find our passion and to grow for them. They know we can do it.”