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  • Courtney Lyons

Professor Kryder delivers his ‘Last Lecture.’

By: Courtney Lyons, Contributor

No, the cherished English professor is — thankfully — not leaving Canisius. Instead, Professor John Kryder was invited to impart wisdom upon students, alumni, faculty, and friends on Monday, April 15 as part of the “Last Lecture” series, inspired by computer science professor Randy Pausch’s book of that title, which, Professor Kryder explained, “came just before cancer forced him to shed his mortal body.”

Sponsored by the Honors Student Association, Vice President Hawa Saleh introduced Professor Kryder and his lecture, characterizing his propensities and personality being “as if kindness and the humanities made a child.” For anyone who has had the honor of taking a class with Professor Kryder, they know his fondness of what Saleh called the “human touches to paper:” the first draft, with all of its imperfections, cross-outs, and scribbles, which “remind us of how hard our brain is working.” 

To start his remarks, Professor Kryder traced his academic journey, beginning at Kenyon College, where “the unrequired courses [he] took at any level of study were often the best and most formative in lasting ways,” serving as a testimonial to the liberal arts education he so fervently champions at Canisius. Then, Professor Kryder had his first teaching job at a boarding school in New Jersey, then in multiple high schools; eventually, he took part in the Consortium of the Niagara Frontier to educate prisoners at Attica / Wyoming Prison in the 1990s before making his way in front of the Canisius crowd in Grupp Fireside Lounge. 

The lecture did not lack Professor Kryder’s profound thoughts on academia’s virtues and vices — the moments that, for better or worse, compel him to utter his iconic line: “Are you kidding me?” 

Professor Kryder finds a non-canonical Emily Dickinson line to most adequately reflect his perspective towards education, where, “Genius is the ignition of affection — not intellect, as is supposed.” Professor Kryder finds that Dickinson’s words “shine a light on how important questions are in comparison to answers and grades,” as he feels disillusioned with how “the tyranny of answers and the quantifiable” can “destroy the care and compassion and empathy that ignite understanding and insight.” It is manifest that Professor Kryder aims to never let that flame of “understanding and insight” extinguish in his classes as he pursues every inquiry while never seeing an answer or solution as the culmination of that meditative thought. 

Professor Kryder’s embodiment of the “affection” Dickinson finds so indispensable to genius is exemplified in his devotion to student and study alike, where, outside of his scheduled weekly office hours, his syllabi says he is available both Saturday and Sunday for student conferencing, rewarding those who are “naturally and rightly abuzz with questions.” Professor Kryder’s determination to intertwine affection and genius as if a logical syllogism is no surprise, for affection courses through his veins, as he offers students free books to write in, never forgets someone’s name, and even has his wife’s initials embroidered into the suit jacket he often dons. 

Professor Kryder finds Dickinson’s words particularly resonant in light of the advent of artificial intelligence, stating, “It can’t do affection, it can’t offer insights, it can’t think critically, it can’t embody empathy, it can’t make decisions.” Only humans can do that, especially with the power of listening, since “hearing other people’s perspectives … [is] so necessary, even if utterly difficult.” If we all had big ears, as Professor Kryder referred to them, our society would be better off. 

Professor Kryder spoke on the importance and potency of “word-gifts” — audible, but not tangible presents — that “can change us and hold us up in the most difficult circumstances.” His “Last Lecture” was like Christmas morning in the way it was imbued with word-gifts like his statement, “Kindness always surprises, especially when unexpected.” 

None of these gifts will compare to the concluding bestowal of advice, which came from his father, “hop[ing] that at 90 you will be essentially the same as you are at your age right now.”

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