The Last Lecture

The Last Lecture by Randy Pausch with Jeffrey Zaslow. In September of 2006, Pausch, a computer science professor at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh, was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. Despite numerous treatments from the best doctors, about a year later the disease had spread to his liver and spleen and the consensus was that he had 3-6 months of relatively good health left. CMU had already asked him to participate in their “Last Lecture” series in which professors talk as if this was their last chance to impart wisdom to their audiences. After much argument with his wife about whether this assignment was the best use of his remaining time, they decided that the opportunity to inspire others and to leave a message for his young children was not one to be overlooked and on September 18, 2007, he took the stage.

The subsequent book is not a transcript of his talk, entitled “Really Achieving Your Childhood Dreams,” but includes many of its humorous and thought-provoking stories. It also continues to describe his life story after the “Last Lecture” became so well-known, a life that continues as of today (Note: Pausch died on July 25, 2008). It is a tremendous resource for anyone fighting a life-threatening illness and their families or for anyone considering their mortality and their personal legacy. I wish this book had been around when my father was diagnosed with multiple myeloma in the 1990s. Our family was fortunate to have him alive for several years after the initial diagnosis, but I now realize we could have made even better use of that time.

This is a very optimistic tale with literally hundreds of anecdotes about his life, parents, family, students, dreams, mentors and the ideas that are most important to him. He begins by listing his six childhood dreams and telling how he has reasonably succeeded in fulfilling all of them: including being in zero gravity, authoring an article in the World Book encyclopedia and being a Disney Imagineer. There are too many stories to mention here, but I do want to include one indicative quote from his story about cajoling his way into the PhD program at CMU: “It’s interesting, the secrets you decide to reveal at the end of your life.”

In discussing how to enjoy life, he identifies himself as the fun-loving Tigger character in the Winnie-the-Pooh stories, not the sad-sack Eeyore. Benjamin Hoff also discusses the Eeyore Effect in his excellent book, The Te of Piglet, as “creating in our imaginations problems that don’t yet exist – quite often causing them to come true.”

The original lecture and much more information about Pausch can be found on his web site at http://download.srv.cs.cmu.edu/~pausch/

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