Last Lecture (Pausch)

The Last Lecture
Randy Pausch, 2007
Hyperion Books
224 pp.
ISBN-13: 9781401323257

We cannot change the cards we are dealt, just how we play the hand. —Randy Pausch

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. (From the publisher.)

Co-author Mr. Zaslow recalled sitting in the audience for the original lecture, laughing and crying along with 400 of Dr. Pausch's friends, colleagues and students

It was the first time Mr. Zaslow had laid eyes on him. As a journalist who writes a column on life transitions, he had heard about the coming lecture and phoned Dr. Pausch the night before. He was so impressed by their talk that he decided to attend, even though his editors had refused to pay for a flight and had told him to do the interview by telephone. "Once I was there, I knew I'd seen something remarkable," Mr. Zaslow said.

After the lecture, the two men met for the first time and Dr. Pausch said he would spend his remaining months with his wife and children.

Later, the men were reportedly paid more than $6-million (U.S.) by Disney-owned publisher Hyperion for their book. At first, Dr. Pausch had been reluctant to take on the project, saying it would take too much time away from his children. As a compromise, Mr. Zaslow interviewed him for one hour every 53 days. That hour was the time Dr. Pausch set aside to ride a bike to keep his strength up.

Mr. Zaslow said he was not surprised that his friend's message, in all its incarnations, struck such a chord. "It's because we're all dying. His fate is our fate and it's just sped up," he said. "So, watching how he approached even his death as an adventure, it just resonates with people. He had a way of turning his own life into lessons. (Fom the Last Lecture website.)

Author Bio 
Birth—October 23, 1960
Where—Baltimore, Maryland, USA
Death—July 26, 2008
Where—Chesapeake, Virginia
Education—B.S., Brown University; Ph.D. Carnegie Mellon

Randolph Frederick Pausch was an American professor of computer science, human-computer interaction and design at Carnegie Mellon University (CMU) in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Pausch received his bachelor's degree in computer science from Brown University in 1982 and his PhD in computer science from Carnegie Mellon in August 1988. Pausch later became an associate professor at the University of Virginia, before working at Carnegie Mellon as an associate professor.

Pausch was born at Baltimore, Maryland, and grew up in Columbia, Maryland. After graduating from Oakland Mills High School in Columbia, Pausch received his bachelor's degree in computer science from Brown University in May 1982 and his Ph.D. in computer science from Carnegie Mellon University in August 1988. While completing his doctoral studies, Pausch was briefly employed at Xerox Palo Alto Research Center and Adobe

Pausch was an assistant and associate professor in the Department of Computer Science at the University of Virginia's School of Engineering and Applied Science from 1988 until 1997. While there, he completed sabbaticals at Walt Disney Imagineering and Electronic Arts (EA).

In 1997, Pausch became Associate Professor of Computer Science, Human-Computer Interaction, and Design, at Carnegie Mellon University. He was a co-founder in 1998, along with Don Marinelli, of CMU's Entertainment Technology Center (ETC), and he started the Building Virtual Worlds course at CMU and taught it for 10 years. He consulted with Google on user interface design and also consulted with PARC, Imagineering, and Media Metrix. Pausch is also the founder of the Alice software project.

He was a National Science Foundation Presidential Young Investigator and a Lilly Foundation Teaching Fellow. Pausch was the author or co-author of five books and over 70 articles. He also received two awards from ACM in 2007 for his achievements in computing education: the Karl V. Karlstrom Outstanding Educator Award and the ACM Special Interest Group on Computer Science Education Award for Outstanding Contributions to Computer Science Education. He was also inducted as a Fellow of the ACM in 2007. The Pittsburgh City Council declared November 19, 2007 to be "Dr. Randy Pausch Day". In May 2008, Pausch was listed by Time as one of the World's Top-100 Most Influential People.

His Last Lecture
Pausch was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer and underwent a Whipple procedure on September 19, 2006 in an unsuccessful attempt to halt the cancer. He was told in August 2007 to expect a remaining three to six months of good health. He soon moved his family to Chesapeake, Virginia, a suburb near Norfolk, to be close to his wife's family.

He gave "The Last Lecture" speech on September 18, 2007 at Carnegie Mellon. Pausch conceived the lecture after he learned that his previously known pancreatic cancer was terminal. The talk was modeled after an ongoing series of lectures where top academics are asked to think deeply about what matters to them, and then give a hypothetical "final talk", with a topic such as "what wisdom would you try to impart to the world if you knew it was your last chance?" The talk was later released as a book called The Last Lecture, which became a New York Times best-seller.

On March 13, 2008, Pausch advocated for greater federal funding for pancreatic cancer before the United States Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Labor, Health and Human Services, Education, and Related Agencies.

On June 26, 2008, Pausch indicated that he was considering stopping further chemotherapy because of the potential adverse side effects. He was, however, considering some immuno-therapy-based approaches. On July 24, on behalf of Pausch, a friend anonymously posted a message on Pausch's webpage stating that a biopsy had indicated that the cancer had progressed further than what was expected from recent PET scans and that Pausch had "taken a step down" and was "much sicker than he had been". The friend also stated that Pausch had then enrolled in a hospice program designed to provide palliative care to those at the end of life. Pausch died from at his family's home in Chesapeake, Virginia on July 25, 2008, having moved there so that his wife and children would be near family after his death. He is survived by his wife Jai, and their three children, Dylan, Logan and Chloe. (From Wikipedia.)

Book Reviews 
Dr. Pausch did not omit things that would break just about anybody’s heart. He spoke of his love for his wife, Jai, and had a birthday cake for her wheeled on stage. He spoke of their three young children, saying he had made his decision to speak mostly to leave them a video memory — to put himself in a metaphorical bottle that they might someday discover on a beach. As the video of his lecture spread across the Web and was translated into many languages, Dr. Pausch also became the co-author of a best-selling book and a deeply personal friend, wise, understanding and humorous, to many he never met.
Douglas Martin - New York Times

Randy had always said that his talk was in large measure meant to be a "message in a bottle that would one day wash up on the beach for my children," now ages six, three and two. The fact that tens of millions of other people ended up watching it was thrilling for him, but he was most excited that his kids would one day see it. His last months were part of his continuing process of sharing lessons with them, and finding ways to build memories and show his love. In a sense, every day, he was continuing the lecture he began on stage. He saw the book, also, as a gift mainly for his children. "How do you get 30 years of parenting into three months?" he asked me. "You write it down is what you do. That's all you can do." He approached his illness as an optimist, a scientist, but also as a realist. (See "Background" under Questions, below.)
Jeffrey Zaslow - Wall Street Journal  (co-author of The Last Lecture)

As the video of his lecture spread across the Web and was translated into many languages, Dr. Pausch also became the co-author of a best-selling book and a deeply personal friend, wise, understanding and humorous, to many he never met.Made famous by his "Last Lecture" at Carnegie Mellon and the quick Internet proliferation of the video of the event, Pausch decided that maybe he just wasn't done lecturing. Despite being several months into the last stage of pancreatic cancer, he managed to put together this book. The crux of it is lessons and morals for his young and infant children to learn once he is gone. Despite his sometimes-contradictory life rules, it proves entertaining and at times inspirational. Surprisingly, the audiobook doesn't include the reading of Pausch's actual "Last Lecture," which he gave on September 18, 2007, a month after being diagnosed. Erik Singer provides an excellent inflective voice that hints at the reveries of past experiences with family and children while wielding hope and regret for family he will leave behind.
Publishers Weekly

Discussion Questions 
Use our LitLovers Book Club Resources; they can help with discussions for any book:

   • Generic Discussion Questions
   • Read-Think-Talk About a Book

Also consider these LitLovers talking points to get a discussion started for The Last Lecture:

1.How did you feel about Jai's unhappiness over Pausch's decision to give a last lecture—her concern that its preparation would divert precious time away from his children? Did you find yourself sympathisizing or disagreeing with her? How would you have reacted as his wife?

2. Discuss Pausch's statement that "it's not about how to achieve your dreams. It's about how to lead your life. If you lead your life the right way ... the dreams will come to you."

• Do you think he's right? Might the reverse be true—that only by working toward (and achieving) your dreams can you "lead your life the right way"?

• Randy remembers his childhood dreams with clarity. Do you remember your childhood dreams—are they as vivid as his? And how important is it to hold onto your childhood dreams—might not they change over time?

3. Does The Last Lecture make you rethink your own priorities —what you want out of life, your work, your friendships, your marriage? Does it make you re-evaluate—or confirm—the things you thought were important?

4. If you had only 6 months to live (and adequate financial means), how would you spend the time left to you? Would you continue to work? Travel? Spend time with family and friends? Would you make changes in your day-to-day life or continue the life you're living now?

5. Pausch said he gave his lecture (not knowing it would attain such worldlwide acclaim) so his children would have some memory or knowledge of their father. If you were faced with 6 months to live, how would you go about creating lasting memories? Is that an important concern—or is it self-serving or self-indulgent?

6. Why is it that The Last Lecture has struck such a chord with people? Co-writer Zaslow says (in Background above) that "it's because we're all dying," and that Randy's fate is ours. Do you agree? Are there any other reasons?

7. What passages in particular resonated with you? Which struck you—personally—as most profound or meaningful for your own life?

(Questions by LitLovers. Please feel free to use them, online or off, with attribution. Thanks.)

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