Before Professor Victor Lieberman gave his “last lecture” April 2 at the Golden Apple Award ceremony, 30 members of the Men’s Glee Club, dressed in pristine khaki pants, blue blazers and variations of maize-and-blue ties, performed “The University.”
Their strong voices rang out through Rackham Auditorium, singing about the University of Michigan’s mission “to teach, to serve, to probe the unknown.”
It seemed a fitting introduction for the 24th annual Golden Apple, the only student-selected teaching award on campus.
Winners are asked to give a lecture as if it’s their last, on a topic of their choosing, and Lieberman, the Raoul Wallenberg Distinguished University Professor of History, chose “What I Think I Know About History.”
Before he spoke, President Mary Sue Coleman received the first-ever Golden Apple Award for Outstanding University Leadership. Coleman gave a short acceptance speech.
“I’m deeply humbled by this award,” she said. “As you know, I left the classroom over 20 years ago.” Despite that, Coleman hadn’t forgotten how to deliver a lecture: she had two key points for the audience to remember. “First, I do a lot of listening. People deserve that respect. Second, never burn any bridges. Always keep the lines of communication open.”
She thanked the university and its students, saying that of the various institutions where she has worked, “my time at U-M has been the most rewarding,” before passing the podium over to Lieberman.
Lieberman’s lecture began with a brief overview of history called “Where Have We Been?” that ended with his central point: “History is the story of an accelerating, multifaceted integration that has grown ever more geographically inclusive and voracious.”
He then described a web of major technological, political, cultural and economic events that supported his theory of multifaceted integration.
He listed four dynamics of integration: climate, commerce, autocatalytic core-periphery differentiation and Darwinian competition, then explained how they influenced global phenomena like widespread literary, religious reform and the growth of the nation.
Lieberman ended with speculation on the future, talking about potential changes in family structures, languages and understanding of identity.
“The bad news is that all this speculation may be very far off the mark,” he admitted. “But the good news is that in 150 years, none of us will be around to say ‘I told you so.'”
After the lecture, Lieberman shook hands and took pictures with members of the audience, one of whom was Coleman. She thanked Lieberman for his lecture, saying, “It was absolutely fascinating. It’s so rare that I get the chance to hear lectures these days.”