Jessica Flanigan is not one to shy away from challenging topics. So it was no surprise that when Flanigan, assistant professor of leadership studies and philosophy, politics, economics, and law, delivered the 2017 Omicron Delta Kappa Last Lecture at the University of Richmond, she tackled one of the hardest and most important questions: What is the meaning of life?

Flanigan, who was named the 2017 OΔK Epsilon Circle Faculty Member of the Year in May, was invited by the student leadership honor society to give this year’s lecture.

The Last Lecture series, which takes place at colleges throughout the country, asks faculty what they would say if this were their last-ever lecture. The event was held on Nov. 6 in Ukrop Auditorium.

“I wanted to say something personal but also universal,” said Flanigan as she opened her talk.

Flanigan argued that investing in future projects makes life meaningful. In her lecture, Flanigan implored students to be willing to take risks and to live life in a way that is more than checking boxes in grad tracker.

As she closed her talk, Flanigan asked students, “How will you find meaning?”

Kyle Linardo, ’15, L’18, attended Flanigan’s lecture and said he was not surprised that she chose such a literal topic for her last lecture. Linardo says that Flanigan is known in the classroom for taking on “taboo and difficult subjects.”

“I was pleasantly surprised with how she took such an ominous topic and turned it into one of meaning and self-reflections,” says Linardo. “Dr. Flanigan takes the controversial items head-on and pulls such unique insights out of those topics that are much more broadly applicable to everyday life, while simultaneously making those controversial topics easier to grapple within the process.”

In the Jepson School, Flanigan teaches courses such as Ethical Decision Making in Healthcare and Leadership Ethics, the leadership studies capstone course. She often serves as the coach for the Jepson School Ethics Bowl team.

Tracy Akers, ’17, describes Flanigan’s teaching as “encouraging” and “enlightening.”

“When you leave her class, your philosophical perspective of the world has either shifted, or profound philosophical seeds have certainly been planted in your mind,” says Akers. “She ignited my love for philosophy, and she helped me believe in the potential of my own mind and my future ahead.”

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