NU-Q’s Seniors Told to Let Go of Expectations During Remote Last Lecture

April 12, 2020

The Last Lecture is an annual Northwestern University tradition where graduating seniors select a professor to provide one last lecture that focuses on advice for the students about life after college. 

This year the graduating class selected Dana Atrach, an assistant professor who is also an NU-Q alumna. Atrach, who delivered her lecture remotely, told the Class of 2020 that letting go of social pressures and expectations is the key to achieving success and happiness.

Atrach teaches screenwriting and centered her lecture around the idea of self-validation and the misconceptions people have about what it means to be successful and what the ideal route to success may be. Bridging between life lessons and screenwriting, Atrach told the graduates to embrace their differences and to be creative, “I always say there’s no formula for writing a great script. That’s one of the biggest misconceptions of screenwriting.” 

“People assume that if they have this kind of character, plus this kind of conflict, and this theme with this plot twist, then bam they’re walking the red carpet at the Oscars. No, it doesn't work that way. Why? Because each story is unique to the individual that's telling it," she said.

Atrach urged the seniors to be creative and adventurous in their professional and personal lives. To be the “protagonists” of their own story, she said, “you need to break free from this cycle” of false expectations about how “life is supposed to be.”

Drawing on the unusual global circumstances and uncertainty that coincided with this class’s graduation, she said, “Give yourself a break. You deserve it. Everything will figure itself out, just take it one step at a time and embrace the uncertainty. It is part of your journey and will make you stronger.” 

In concluding her talk, Atrach referenced several life lessons from Pixar Animation Studios – a computer animation studio – telling the students to “be brave, kind and open-minded” and to learn to “love and accept themselves and not take their family for granted.”

Atrach is a graduate of Northwestern’s School of Communication and has an MFA in Screenwriting from the University of California, Los Angeles. Before joining NU-Q, Atrach worked as a communication specialist at Teach for Qatar. She also freelances as a script editor and script development mentor with the Doha Film Institute. In 2014, her first feature, Heeya Howa, won the “Best Unproduced Script Based on a Family Drama” at the St. Tropez International Film Festival. She has also written and co-written several short films that have premiered in Doha and Los Angeles.