Sept. 2004 Issue
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How will your obituary read?

Many students and alumni have vivid memories of those special professors who greatly influenced their lives as both teacher and mentor. In this edition of The Last Word, Carnegie Mellon Today salutes Hugh D. Young for being one of those extraordinary individuals.

How will your obituary read?

Although we rarely think about it, we're writing it every day of our lives.

That was the point of a lecture a few years back by physics legend Hugh D. Young (S'52, '53, 59; A'72) as part of the Division of Student Affairs' "Last Lecture Series." This spring, Dr. Young's retirement brought back memories of that very popular presentation.

Young encouraged students to accept and strive to meet challenges, to get involved in social and political issues, and to "make a difference" by being the best they can possibly be. That's how to ensure a good obituary, he said.

An accomplished pianist and avid mountain climber who reached the 14,000-foot summit of the Grand Teton on several occasions, Young practiced what he preached. He made a difference.

"That man taught physics like you wouldn't believe," said alumna Candace Sheffield Matthews (E'81), president of SoftSheen-Carson, a consumer products division of L'Oreal USA, Inc. Matthews shared the commencement stage with Young last spring as the keynote speaker.

"He literally wrote the book on physics," she said. "He was one of the professors who had a tremendous impact on me. He has a passion for physics and was truly engaging. Anybody who can take physics, a tremendously difficult subject, and get you to understand it and like it, deserves a lot of credit."

"One of the great things about Hugh Young's class was that even in an introductory course with 100 students, I felt like he was concerned about the academic and personal success of each of us," said Elizabeth Warner (E'98).

Concerned, indeed. Students were always welcome in his 7th floor Wean Hall office, and he annually opened his home for Thanksgiving dinner to students who were unable to be with family for the holiday.

"He invited everyone in the class to his house for Thanksgiving dinner, and hosted a dinner for all the girls in my residence hall," Warner recalled. "He welcomed us all into his home, fed us brownies and played music for us."

That's music to anyone's ears.

"Climbing a mountain gives you a chance to see your own life in a different perspective," Young said in his "last lecture." "The peak of a mountain enables you to see for miles around. It allows you to see what really is important in your life."

That view undoubtedly includes people like Hugh D.Young.

While he said he "still has miles to go," the last words are still being written for Hugh Young. We wish him all the best and thank him for his outstanding contributions to the university over the past five decades. His heart was truly in his work.

A celebration honoring Dr. Young will be held during Homecoming Weekend at 4 p.m. Friday, Oct. 15, in the Kresge Theater.


Related Links:
Division of Student Affairs

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