Wednesday, October 21, 2015

The Last Lecture

The Last Lecture is a New York Times best-selling book co-authored by Randy Pausch—a professor of computer science, human-computer interaction, and design at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania—and Jeffrey Zaslow of the Wall Street Journal. The book was born out of a lecture Pausch gave in September 2007 entitled "Really Achieving Your Childhood Dreams".

The book has often been compared with Mitch Albom's Tuesdays with Morrie, a book on lessons the author learned from his dying college professor. When asked about his knowledge of the book, Pausch replied that he had never read that book, and commented that he "didn’t know there was a dying-professor section at the bookstore". Speculation that the book would be turned into a movie was turned down by Pausch himself.

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According to Randy Pausch “We cannot change the cards we are dealt, just how we play the hand” (Pausch & Zaslow, 2008). At 47 Pausch, a college professor at Carnegie Mellon University, was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. He then decided to write The Last Lecture.

In their last year professors are often asked to give a talk, their last lecture, in which they reflect on their experiences. While they speak, audiences can’t help but mull the same question: What wisdom would we impart to the world if we knew it was our last chance? What would we want as our legacy?

This text is both inspiring and powerful. Pausch tells life stories that illustrate such themes as dreaming big, hard work, perseverance, sacrifice, self-confidence, modesty, courage, a positive outlook, and dealing with adversity. All who read this book will find themselves not wanting it to end as story after story, we get a glimpse of Pausch’s life.
Pausch believed that he won the parent lottery. He was influenced by his loving and supportive parents. Early in life he painted things that mattered to him on his bedroom walls such as a large silver elevator door, geometric shapes, chess pieces, Pandora’s Box, and a quadratic formula. Among these the quadratic formula mattered most to him.
Growing up Pausch had many experiences and learned lessons from them. He recounted experiences playing football that taught him lessons about the importance of teamwork, sportsmanship, perseverance, hard work and the ability to deal with adversity.
He remembered going through his dad’s things after his dad died. Among them were a citation for heroic achievement and a bronze star for valor his dad received while in the Army. His father had never mentioned these to him. Pausch says that he learned a lesson about sacrifice and modesty that day.

As a child he loved Disney World and dreamed of becoming a Disney Imagineer. Few achieve such dreams much less get the opportunity to achieve them. He got that opportunity while teaching at Carnegie Mellon and was awarded a sabbatical so that he could take the job. He recounted that after his plane landed in Los Angles he drove to Disney World with the Lion King soundtrack blaring on his convertible’s stereo and tears of joy streaming down his face.

In a chapter entitled, “It’s About How to Live Your Life,” Pausch talks of his cancer and it’s effects on the remainder of his life. He described how he tried to live his life and offered some tips on coping saying “this is what worked for me.” He talks about giving yourself permission to dream big, and achieving your goals. He points out that we all have a finite amount of time and energy and that time spent complaining cannot help us achieve our goals.

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As a professor of computer sciences at Carnegie Mellon University, Randy F. Pausch expected students to pay attention to his lectures. He never expected that the rest of the world would listen, too.

But today, more than 10 million people have tuned into Dr. Pausch’s last lecture, a whimsical and poignant talk about Captain Kirk, zero gravity and achieving childhood dreams. The 70-minute talk, at, has been translated into seven languages, and this week Hyperion is publishing “The Last Lecture,” a book by Dr. Pausch and a collaborator, Jeff Zaslow, that tells the story behind the story of the lecture.

“The whole thing is very strange,” Dr. Pausch said over lunch at a diner near Norfolk, Va. “I just gave a talk. I gave talks my whole life.”

But of course, this wasn’t just any talk. “Let’s not ignore the obvious,” he said. “If I’d given that lecture but I weren’t dying, it wouldn’t have had the gravitas. Context is everything.”

Dr. Pausch, 47, is dying of pancreatic cancer, a disease that kills 95 percent of its victims, usually within months of diagnosis. Except for a pill bottle on the table in front of him, there were no outward signs of the deadly tumors growing inside him. Though he had just recently recovered from heart and kidney failure, he looked boyish, with a red knit shirt and a head of thick dark-brown hair.

Last fall, after doctors told him that he would probably have no more than six months of good health, Dr. Pausch stepped down from his academic duties and relocated to be closer to his family. But he decided to give one last lecture to a roomful of students and faculty members at Carnegie Mellon.

The lecture was not about cancer. Instead, he says, it was simply a father’s effort to digest a lifetime of advice for his children into one talk — a talk that Dr. Pausch knew he would not be around long enough to deliver in person. The children are Dylan, 6; Logan, 4; and Chloe, almost 2.

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