May 2008

A professor’s stirring ‘last lecture’

By Randy Pausch
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When Randy Pausch learned he was dying of pancreatic cancer, he found himself in quite a dilemma: at the top of his professional game, with a beautiful wife and three young children, how should he check out of life? A computer science professor at Carnegie Mellon University, Pausch is the co-founder of the university's prestigious Entertainment Technology Center and has worked with such companies as Google, Electronic Arts and Walt Disney Imagineering. "I love thinking I might find a way to beat this late-stage cancer," he writes in The Last Lecture. "Because even if I don't, it's a better mindset to help me get through each day."

Using the forum of his university's "Last Lecture" series, the terminally ill Pausch decided to distill his life lessons into a talk for students, friends and colleagues about how to achieve your childhood dreams. When Jeffrey Zaslow of the Wall Street Journal wrote a column about the lecture, and a video of the speech was posted on the Internet, the reaction was overwhelming. To adapt the lecture into a book, Pausch dictated his thoughts to Zaslow while on his daily bike rides – determined to maintain his fitness and minimize his time away from his family during the final months of his life. (Paush has already outlived his doctors' prediction that he had only six healthy months to live.)

The Last Lecture touches on Pausch's upbringing by parents who encouraged creativity and curiosity, as well as the support he received from important professors and mentors. The book gathers momentum with short sections about teamwork and cooperation, dreaming big, not obsessing over what people think, the power of apology and the little touches that mean so much (Pausch handed out Thin Mints with every request to review research papers).

Ultimately, this insightful nerd-optimist-dreamer abandons the idea of a "bucket list," reflecting instead his father's lifelong dedication to sharing intellectual and emotional wealth with others. "Time is all you have," Pausch writes, "And you may find one day that you have less than you think."

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The Last Lecture

The Last Lecture

By Randy Pausch
ISBN 9781401323257

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