Randy Pausch, professor of computer science at Carnegie Mellon University, passed away this July at the age of 47. What he was best known for throughout the world was his inspiring and aptly titled Last Lecture speech given on Sept. 27, 2007 at Carnegie Mellon University, and later, his best-selling book titled The Last Lecture.
Diagnosed with terminal pancreatic cancer and told by his doctors he had only months to live, Pausch lived his life to the fullest.
In order to leave a loving legacy behind and impart his wisdom to his three children, Pausch worked diligently to assemble the chapters of what he believed to be all the important life lessons they could be taught when they were old enough to understand.
The book was born out of a 75-minute speech and co-authored by Jeffrey Zaslow, a columnist at the Wall Street Journal.
The Last Lecture is divided into three broad sections: achieving childhood dreams, enabling the dreams of others, and lessons learned along the way. This is one of a handful of books that inspired me to write and share and really take a hard look at my own life.
Reading this book in one stretch was a life-changing experience for me, and watching the actual speech on YouTube sent me chills down my spine.
Pausch had many dreams while growing up, most of them science fiction-related and extremely nerdy. But throughout life, he managed to pursue his passion in science and achieve small goals one at a time, leading to bigger milestones down the road.
Many people were along the way to nurture, educate and shape Pausch, including his football coach Jim Graham, Walt Disney Imagineer Jon Snoddy, “Dutch Uncle” Andy Van Dam and Captain Kirk from Star Trek. Through humorous stories and anecdotes, Pausch indirectly helps his readers identify these valuable figures in their own lives.
A short example comes from Pausch’s college professor Andy Van Dam, who is not really related to him, but Dutch nevertheless and very uncle-like. Van Dam said the following to Pausch one day: “Randy, it’s such a shame that people perceive you as being so arrogant, because it’s going to limit what you’re going to be able to accomplish in life.”
Van Dam’s tactful use of words opened Pausch to criticism without directly calling Pausch “a jerk.” Looking back, Pausch was able to understand the professor’s wisdom. Even at the time, he at least was able to accept this negative feedback and moderate his behavior accordingly.
In the second part of the book, Pausch stresses the importance of enabling the dreams of others. Since he was a college professor, he was able to touch the minds and souls of many students through classes and projects such as Building Virtual Worlds, and Alice, a Carnegie Mellon software-teaching tool.
Pausch explains the importance of achieving one’s dreams, but equally important is helping others achieve theirs. This act of selflessness greatly rewarded Pausch in his career and in life, and he learned invaluable lessons while helping his students shoot for the stars.
In his course Building Virtual Worlds, Pausch developed a system that enabled students to give and receive feedback from team members, which forced them to focus on their strengths and weaknesses and helped them become better teammates.
The last section of this book is devoted to several pieces of advice Pausch collected during his life. One that stood out the most for me — “no job is beneath you” — was given to him by his father when Pausch was working in the strawberry fields and complained about doing manual labor.