53. – 463.) The Last Lecture by Randy Pausch with Jeffrey Zaslow – A companion book to the video of Randy’s last lecture at
. Most last university lectures are a form of retirement lecture for a professor talking about their university lives and offering thoughts on life and education but this was a true last lecture. Suffering from pancreatic cancer, with only months to live, Randy gave a powerful evocative lecture on realizing childhood dreams. The book supplements the lecture beautifully. He hesitated to give the lecture as Jai (his wife) did not want him to waste precious family time in preparation. There was no plan to make the lecture a worldwide event. Her comment, only disclosed in the book, when they embraced on stage after he surprised her with a birthday cake, of “please don’t die” brought tears to my eyes and a special poignancy to the visual moment. He did not discuss their relationship in the lecture as he thought it too emotional. In their relationship she had initially drawn away from him and he wooed her. His parents’ encouragement and expectations were highlighted. It remains startling that they allowed him, as a child, to draw and paint on his bedroom walls and ceiling. There is a vivid story on the benefits of unexpected kindness. Carnegie Mellon University Disneyland replaced a salt and pepper shaker for young Randy and his sister which they had dropped and broken a few minutes after purchase. It led to his family spending over $100,000 in Disney attractions during his lifetime. He illustrated his belief that brick walls in life are only there to see how hard you want to get past them. He phoned the admissions department at every day until he was admitted from the waiting list. He was rejected from Carnegie Mellon’s Ph.D. program but was granted an interview with the aid of his first mentor, Professor Andy van Dam, from Brown. In dealing with his fatal illness the first round of surgery and treatment for the pancreatic cancer seemed successful but while he and Jai were waiting for the doctor on a review they realized it had metastasized. He remains private about his religious beliefs but it is clear he is a Christian and probably a Presbyterian. His use of aphorisms and clichés to promote team building is emphasized. Randy expected only 150 to come to hear a computer science professor talk about his life. 300 jammed the lecture theatre and there was an overflow crowd. Zaslow came on his own, without expenses, from the Wall Street Journal. His article started spreading the word about this truly special last lecture. The internet carried it around the world. Carnegie Mellon did not copyright the video of the lecture. (A brilliant decision as it has gained incredible goodwill and free publicity.) Millions have watched the “Last Lecture” and there is now a website through the university about Randy which includes the lecture. The ending of the book with Randy’s tender comments on how he remembers his children was wrenching and beautiful. (Dec. 27/08) (2nd Best Non-fiction of 2008) Brown University
I encourage anyone who has not watched the video to take 1 ½ hours of your life for a lecture you will never forget. I know I benefited from watching the video and reflecting on its messages.