The Last Lecture

by Randy Pausch with Jeffrey Zaslow

In memory of Randy Pausch

This familiar book floated past my glancing sight when I browsed the shelves of a bookstore. The Last Lecture. It wasn't the first time I saw the book in other shelves, which were in other bookstores. I even remembered the synopsis on the front and back flaps. Somehow I held back from buying the book until yesterday. And I did not regret reading through the slightly over 200 pages of advises, thoughts and opinions.

The Really Last Lecture

As is mentioned on the flap of the book, professors in universities are often asked to present a lecture called "The Last Lecture". They are told to imagine that death is near and this talk will be their last one before leaving the world of the living. What wisdom will they impart?

In the case of Randy Pausch, he did not have to imagine, for he was just diagnosed with terminal cancer - pancreatic cancer to be exact, when he was asked to present "The Last Lecture". The computer science professor from Carnegie Mellon chose to title the talk "Really Achieving Your Childhood Dreams". Instead of choosing to talk about dying, he chose to talk about living.

By collaborating with Zaslow, he conveyed his "lectures" to the columnist for Wall Street Journal when he was out for biking exercise through a headset. With Zaslow's ability in writing, the talk from the on-stage lecture was mingled in with Pausch's additional comments and the result is this book which I just finished reading.

The Last Lecture is worth reading not because it is a rare case where the literal meets reality ("The Last Lecture" vs the really last lecture?). It is worth spending time on because it is inspirational. Crammed within 5 sections and 61 short chapters are advises from a genius who set his goal to try to help as much people as he can and to leave a legacy behind which his children could one day look at. He believed that he could do that by advising how everyone could achieve what they dreamt of since their childhood.

Most of the advises within are as good as any motivational books will offer. Pausch loves to use clichés, which are very useful as these made his advises easy to remember. He provided opinions on how to face problems, on time management, even a little on how to woo a lady. But all in all, his focus is about enabling the reader's dream, and what kind of mindset works best in pursuing it. His most important advise by far, I believe, is that sometimes a person gets more out of a dream not by achieving it, but by pursuing it and not achieving it.

The Living Man

The terminal genius not only was a computer whiz, he was also a great orator. Anyone who watched the video from Carnegie Mellon of his talk would be amazed by his presentation. Contrary to his health condition, he looked exceptionally fine on the outset, even going on to perform push-ups on stage.

Anyone who expected a boring lecture from a dying professor should keep that thought in check. Here was a lecturer who had a gift in delivering a talk which made audiences laugh and forget that he had just went through chemotherapy. His advises were delivered in fun methods, even going as far as bringing visual aids such as large stuffed animals, and I never was bored throughout the hour and a quarter long talk. Anyone who work regularly with talks could certainly get some tricks and jokes from Pausch.

Famous Last Words

There are certain clichés that Pausch loved. In The Last Lecture, he was particularly fond of them to the point where he recommended them. To him, clichés were almost always right to the money because these were imparted wisdom of the elders. A few of those which he favored, along with some memorable lines from the book, are listed here. Those which were not from him or his parents are credited appropriately, otherwise they are from them.
  • I have an engineering problem. (I most definitely is going to quote that everyday! ^^)
  • I sometimes think I got more from pursuing that dream, and not accomplishing it, than I did from many of the ones I did accomplish. (Yes, I hope engineering managers will learn that. No chance though.)
  • You've got to get the fundamentals down, because otherwise the fancy stuff is not going to work. (Another one for engineering managers who look more on schedules and costs than the technical knowledge.)
  • If you can dream it, you can do it. - Walt Disney
  • I don't believe in the no-win scenario. - from William Shatner a.k.a. Captain Kirk of Star Trek
  • When there's an elephant in the room, introduce it.
  • We cannot change the cards we are dealt, just how we play the hand.
  • If you have a question, then find the answer.
  • (When you are negotiating) have something to bring to the table, because that will make you more welcome.
  • When you're screwing up and nobody says anything to you anymore, they've given up on you. - Randy's assistant coach when he was learning (American) football under coach Jim Graham
  • 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.
  • Ask Disney World workers: "What time does the park close?" They're supposed to answer: "The park is open until 8 p.m." (This is about using semantics to phrase something in a positive light.)
  • I'll take an earnest person over a hip person every time, because hip is short-term. Earnest is long-term. (Yeah, I wished most people will do that.)
  • When you're frustrated with people, when they've made you angry, it just may be because you haven't given them enough time. - Jon Snoddy, Disney Imagineering
  • Luck is what happens when preparation meets opportunity. - Seneca, Roman philosopher
  • Whether you can or you can't, you're right. - Henry Ford
  • Experience is what you get when you didn't get what you wanted.
  • The best shortcut is the long way, which is basically two words: work hard.
  • When you go into the wilderness, the only thing you can count on is what you take with you.
  • OK, professor boy, what can you do for us? - Mk Haley, Disney Imagineering, welcoming greeting on Randy's first day of his sabbatical with Disney

The Last Farewell

The curious reader would be interested to know that The Last Lecture was presented on stage in Carnegie Mellon on September 18, 2007; he passed on from this world on July 25, 2008 due to complications from pancreatic cancer. He was survived by his wife, Jai, and his 3 children - Dylan, Logan and Chloe. Jeffrey Zaslow was killed in a car accident on February 10, 2012.

To him, The Last Lecture is not only for the reader, but to his children as well. This is what he had chosen to say to them after he leave them, his legacy for them to look upon when they wonder about him. It saddened me to know that such a great person had been taken from the world, but I took great consolation to know that he chose to leave a bit of himself behind in this book. I hope that if I were given the chance to give my last lecture, I could do at least as good as he did, if not better.

The interested reader may direct their attention to the following links items related to Randy Pausch and The Last Lecture.

The YouTube video "The Last Lecture", recording Randy Pausch's last lecture as was presented in Carnegie Mellon.

In memory of Randy Pausch


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