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What Will Be Your Legacy?


I had a philosophy professor who was the quintessential eccentric philosopher. His disheveled appearance was highlighted by a well-worn tweed sport coat and poor-fitting thick glasses, which often rested on the tip of his nose. Every now and then, as most philosophy professors do, he would go off on one of those esoteric and existential “what’s the meaning of life” discussions. Many of those discussions went nowhere, but there were a few that really hit home. This was one of them:

“Respond to the following questions by a show of hands,” my professor instructed.

“How many of you can tell me something about your parents?” Everyone’s hand went up. 

“How many of you can tell me something about your grandparents?” About three-fourths of the class raised their hands. 

“How many of you can tell me something about your great-grandparents?” Two out of sixty students raised their hands. 

“Look around the room,” he said. “In just two short generations hardly any of us even know who our own great-grandparents were. Oh sure, maybe we have an old, tattered photograph tucked away in a musty cigar box or know the classic family story about how one of them walked five miles to school barefoot. But how many of us really know who they were, what they thought, what they were proud of, what they were afraid of, or what they dreamed about? Think about that. Within three generations our ancestors are all but forgotten. Will this happen to you? 

“Here’s a better question. Look ahead three generations. You are long gone. Instead of you sitting in this room, now it’s your great-grandchildren. What will they have to say about you? What will they know about you? Or will you be forgotten, too?

“Is your life going to be a warning or an example? What legacy will you leave? The choice is yours. Class dismissed.”

Nobody rose from their seat for a good five minutes.


Tony D’Angelo

The previous story is an excerpt from Chicken Soup for the College Soul:Inspiring and Humorous Stories About College written by authors Jack Canfield, Mark Victor Hansen, Kimberly Kirberger, and Dan Clark. 


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