A lot of professors give talks titled “The Last Lecture.” Professors are asked to consider their demise and to ruminate on what matters most to them. And 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? If we had to vanish tomorrow, what would we want as our legacy?
When Randy Pausch, a computer science professor at Carnegie Mellon, was asked to give such a lecture, he didn’t have to imagine it as his last, since he had recently been diagnosed with terminal cancer. But the lecture he gave—”Really Achieving Your Childhood Dreams”—wasn’t about dying. It was about the importance of overcoming obstacles, of enabling the dreams of others, of seizing every moment (because “time is all you have…and you may find one day that you have less than you think”). It was a summation of everything Randy had come to believe. It was about living.
In this book, Randy Pausch has combined the humor, inspiration and intelligence that made his lecture such a phenomenon and given it an indelible form. It is a book that will be shared for generations to come.
My Thoughts: I first fell under the spell of Randy Pausch in the fall of 2008. At that time, a co-worker of mine had shared with me the link the youtube presentation of Randy’s Last Lecture. I was mesmerized. Here’s a man who had every reason to be angry and to lash out at the injustice of his mortality. Instead, I watched a man whose grace and integrity touched a part of my heart and really made me think about what mattered most in life.
When I first opened the pages of The Last Lecture, I started crying. As I read the pages, I visualized the man I watched giving his last lecture at Carnegie Melon University; at the time of the lecture he appeared so vital and so healthy; it was hard to believe that he was even sick. Reading this book tonight, it was even more bitter-sweet because I was reading the words of a man who had passed away in July.
As I continued reading, my tears dried and I became submerged in the stories that Randy regaled about his life. I enjoyed the stories of his childhood and his dreams at the time. It was clear that Randy had a close relationship with his sister and his parents. His stories were lovingly told with such humor and intelligence; I couldn’t help but be taken with him.
I continued reading about how he met his wife Jai, about the birth of his first child, about the realization of so many of his dreams. I enjoyed the memoirs of Randy Pausch. I liked reading about a young, cocky Randy in his adventures through childhood, college, and career.
Dr. Pausch included a lot of little witty mottos, otherwise knows as “Pauschisms” in his book, the fundamentals of which are essentially common sense and common decency. Some of these “Pasuchisms” were his own; some were lessons he learned through others on his life journey.
Some of the ones that stuck with me?:
The brick walls are there for a reason. They’re not there to keep us out. The brick walls are there to give us a chance to show how badly we want something. (p51-52).
Give yourself permission to dream. (P.133)
If you wait long enough, people will surprise and impress you. (p. 145)
There were several others. The book was filled with them. This is a man who was terminally ill and he’s trying to put a lifetime of learning down into a 200 page memoir. Something to think about.
I continued reading and then I got to the last section of the book. My heart broke for the father trying to say good bye to the three children who may be too young to ever remember him, for the wife who loved her husband so much she begged him not to die, and for the husband who loved his wife so profoundly that I literally felt it as I read every word he wrote about her.
Verdict: This was Excellent. As I read the book, it was never far from my mind that I was not this book’s intended audience. This book will serve as a memoir to Randy’s children who are so young that they will more than likely not have any memory of their father. This is his story in his words, for them. This is the legacy he leaves for his kids.
I encourage everybody to read this one. The world lost a great man the day Randy Pausch died.