THE LAST LECTURE
Author: Randy Pausch, former professor of Computer Science and Human-Computer Interaction in Carnegie Mellon; The book was written with the help of author and journalist, Jeffrey Zaslow.
First Published: 2008
“Enlightening and heartbreaking, The Last Lecture is Randy Pausch’s final attempt to leave a lasting legacy—46-years’ worth of life lessons squeezed into one lecture. In this book, Pausch inspires his readers to realize their dreams through living a life of integrity, hard work, gratitude, and fortitude.”
RANDY PAUSCH has made no secret of it—The Last Lecture wasn’t written for commercial purposes or for public consumption, it was written for his kids. The book was based on a 2007 lecture Pausch gave for Carnegie Mellon University. The lecture was called “The Last Lecture: Really Achieving Your Childhood Dreams”. It was a part of a series of lectures where top academics were asked to give ‘hypothetical last lectures’ and to share what was really important to them.
In Pausch’s case, there was nothing hypothetical about this final lecture. It was the last one he’d make in front of his students and colleagues—it was also the finest legacy he could ever leave to his family. The book starts off with Pausch ‘introducing the elephant in the room.’ In his words:
“I have an engineering problem. While for the most part I’m in terrific physical shape, I have ten tumors in my liver and I have only a few months left to live.”
Although pressed for time—time which his wife, Jai, believed he could spend with his family—Pausch insisted on doing the lecture. He believed that this was the best thing he could leave his children, a glimpse of who their father was. According to Pausch: “If I were a painter, I would have painted for them. If I were a musician, I would have composed music. But I am a lecturer. So I lectured.”
These straightforward, unflinching admissions set the tone for the rest of the book. Pausch doesn’t ask the reader to feel sorry for him; instead, he does the opposite. He tries to impart optimism to his readers by talking about the joy of living. Through his personal anecdotes, he encourages the reader to set achievable goals and to take pride in these achievements.
As a child, Pausch was a dreamer. There were a lot of things he wanted to do with his life. But what set him apart from other kids was how specific his life goals were. These dreams included: (1) being in zero gravity; (2) playing in the NFL; (3) writing an article for the World Book Encyclopedia; (4) becoming Captain Kirk; (5) winning a number of stuffed animals; and (6) becoming a Disney Imagineer. Out of all these dreams, the only one Pausch didn’t accomplish was to play for the NFL—everything else he got by working hard, working smart, and most importantly, having the right attitude.
Of course, he had a bit of help from his friends and family too. In the book, Pausch talks about winning the “parent lottery”. His parents helped shape his personality by encouraging him to dream but keeping his feet on the ground by teaching him the importance of humility. Throughout the book, he speaks of his parents with admiration and respect, but is also quick to point out the importance of compromise between the parents and the child.
Another important figure in Pausch’s life was his kiddie football coach, Jim Graham. Coach Graham could be hard on the kids, but to Pausch, that was the coach’s way of teaching the children the importance of perseverance and learning the fundamentals. Through the coach, Pausch learned more about giving and taking ‘head fakes’ or indirect learning.
Then there’s Pausch’s immediate family. Now, his children may have been the reason for the lecture, but it was his wife, Jai, who made the lecture possible. Falling in love with Jai changed Pausch. In a way, she softened him by balancing out his strong-willed nature with her own quiet strength and fortitude. Her strength also served as a comfort to Pausch, especially after learning about his terminal illness. In the lecture, Pausch speaks about being confident that his kids will grow up right because they have a strong and loving mother to guide them. The love Pausch felt for Jai is so palpable in this book. Just the way he speaks about her–the undertones of reverence and gratitude–it makes it impossible for anyone not to feel touched, hopeful, and a little heartbroken after reading about their story.
While reading this book, you can also tell right away that Pausch–though not perfect–was actually a really great man. Beyond working to achieve his dreams, he also strived to help others attain theirs. As a professor, Pausch didn’t just teach his students the subject matter, he inspired them to set goals, aim high, work hard, and most importantly, to help each other in achieving their dreams. Now, four years after his death, Pausch continues to inspire millions through this beautiful book.
All in all, I give this book an A. It’s the type of book that will motivate you to do something with your life. It’s honest, heartfelt, and touching. The only thing that would make this book better is if Pausch and Zaslow expounded on some of the ideas more. Other than that, this book is the perfect read for anyone looking for a bit of guidance.
“We cannot change the cards we are dealt, just how we play the hand.”
“Experience is what you get when you didn’t get what you wanted. And experience is often the most valuable thing you have to offer.”
“The brick walls are there for a reason. The brick walls are not there to keep us out. The brick walls are there to give us a chance to show how badly we want something. Because the brick walls are there to stop the people who don’t want it badly enough. They’re there to stop the other people.””
“No job is beneath you.”