06/03/2011 03:45 pm ET Updated Aug 03, 2011

Two Months to Live, My Colleague Writes a Letter...

Imagine you have two months to live. What would you do, what would you write to your friends and colleagues? I don't know if I have two months -- do you? No one does. Life is an ongoing risk, an opportunity to embrace challenges, to coast, or to be numb.

One of my dear colleagues, Dr. Richard Pierre Claude, a scholar of human rights, wrote an extraordinary letter to his friends and colleagues exactly two months before he passed away. Whether or not he knew he had two months before the end is uncertain, but the first sentence could be viewed as possible foreshadowing:

(written on Martin Luther King Day, 2011 -- he passed away on March 17):

The closer one comes to life's end, the more obvious it appears that over the course of a career there is only so much one can do.

His message in this compelling letter:

Education is humankind's most effective tool for personal empowerment and as such is essential to the enhancement of human dignity through its fruits of knowledge, understanding, and wisdom. Moreover, education has the status of a multi-faceted social, economic, and cultural human right. It is a social right because in the context of the community it promotes the full development of the human personality. It is an economic right because it can lead to economic self-sufficiency through employment or self-employment. Because the international community has directed education toward the building of a universal culture of human rights, it is also a cultural right. In short, education is the necessary condition for the individual to function as a fully human being in modern society.

Richard Pierre Claude

It is impossible to imagine a better reason to be an educator. Every day, I try to realize Dr. Claude's vision, and can only hope that I will be able to leave such a legacy.

A version of this article was published at Dean's Corner at ScienceBlogs.