Ralph Byrns has a Ph.D. in economics and has worked at nine universities — but many things in life still baffle him.
And while Byrns admitted Wednesday that he doesn’t understand why his wife wants diamonds and flowers — or “dead vegetation” — during the third annual Carolina Chiron Award Last Lecture, he did have wisdom to offer the crowd.
Byrns, who has been at the University since 2001 but is leaving for Arizona next year, spoke on the lessons he has drawn from his life experiences and his time at UNC.
“It’s kind of a goulash, and it’s not terribly well organized,” he said of his speech, titled “Mysteries and Puzzles, Form and Substance.”
The talk hit on topics ranging from superficiality to cheating, but it stayed true to Byrns’ professed vision of life — it’s messy.
“What we really have in this life when we’re trying to decide what to do is a mixture of things,” he said.
But he said some parts of that mixture outweigh the others. Byrns said that while form —how a person looks and behaves on the surface — is important, what’s inside a person is essential.
“Value is about substance, not about material. It is something that comes from inside human hearts,” Byrns said.
Byrns also said students at the University should always remember how lucky they are.
He pointed out that UNC students can achieve anything professionally or monetarily — but he said those aren’t true measures of success.
“You win by changing this world to make it a better place,” he said.
The Chiron Award is based on a “Last Lecture” teaching award created by the University of Michigan Hillel and later made famous by Randy Pausch’s last lecture speech and best-selling book. UNC Hillel brought the award to UNC in 2008.
An award committee of 14 students, led by seniors Ben Anders and Shruti Shah, selected Byrns to deliver this year’s lecture.
“He’s energetic. He’s enthusiastic. We always look for that passion in the person we’re choosing,” Anders said.
Sheila Katz, assistant director of N.C. Hillel, said Byrns fits the award’s ideals because he cares about students and the University.
“I think he embodies the spirit of this award because he speaks from the heart,” she said.
Byrns is known at UNC for sponsoring the Carolina Economics Club and his annual lecture on the economics of love. But senior David Bellard said it is his passion for teaching that sets him apart.
“He always cares about his students,” Bellard said.
And Byrns said students can still take advantage of his wisdom.
“Please come by and see me at my office, and I will tell you what to do with the rest of your lives.”
Contact the University Editor at email@example.com.
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