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It’s Lawrence Hultgren’s last first day at Virginia Wesleyan University.

For 55 years, he’s gotten up early in the last weeks of August and made his way to the wooded campus at the Virginia Beach-Norfolk city line.

This week, the first class of his last year is a freshman seminar where about 20 students will get an overview of philosophy. 

“This is the class on the good life,” he said. “So what we’re going to be talking about, literally, is trying to understand just what is the good life? What would a good life look like? What (does) a good life look like for me, or for you or maybe more importantly, for us?”

Many of the students in Hultgren’s 8:30 a.m. class are athletes, and there’s a handful of baseball players. As a faculty athletic representative, he’s at as many games as his schedule allows and knows most coaches.

He also embraces the small campus and tells his freshmen the benefits of such a school.

“We've got a lot of clubs and activities, but if we don't have a club or activity, we really encourage you to start (it),” he told students during class.

“For a while, I was the faculty advisor for the longboard group. A group came here, they loved to skateboard, right? And so they started their own club.”

Virginia Wesleyan announced Hultgren's retirement in July and past students - many old enough to have kids in college themselves - said Hultgren is a friendly professor who remembered them, even if their paths only briefly crossed.

And Hultgren, from his wife’s Facebook account, responded to most of the memories, telling students from decades ago no one would forget them and he remembered and holds dear the conversations they had in class.

Photo by Mechelle Hankerson

Lawrence Hultgren has taught at Virginia Wesleyan University for 55 years. He covers a number of topics through his expertise in philosphy, including environmental and medical ethics. 

Hultgren said he’s always loved philosophy. It’s a topic that is a lifelong practice, he said.

It’s why he was willing to come to Virginia Wesleyan only a few years after the school opened to build the department. He makes sure the topic is always relevant to real life and the topic isn’t abstract.

“These kids have been doing philosophy sort of all their life,” he said.  “They've been raising questions about what's good, bad or just. They've (asked) questions about how we ought to live.”

It’s been a long enough career that Hultgren is seeing some of his lessons come back around. In the 1980s, he taught a class around the philosophical questions of the first atomic bomb. And now, this summer, the movie “Oppenheimer” made him think he could create a class just based on that.

“Now I’m sad because normally I would be working right now on a class I want to do,” he said. “But I just don’t have time to put them together. Wouldn’t that be great to do a course now on the Oppenheimer film?”

For now, he’ll see his class again on Monday and work on decluttering his office bookshelves before the year ends.