Each year at Carnegie Mellon University, a teacher is asked to reflect deeply on what matters to them and then give a speech that would hypothetically be their last to their students before dying. In September 2007, the speaker, Randy Pausch, a 47-year-old computer science professor and father of three, didn't have to pretend that he was confronting death. Diagnosed with pancreatic cancer a year earlier and given three to six months to live in a prognosis a month before, he was truly giving The Last Lecture. Pausch's speech, entitled "Achieving Your Childhood Dreams," was every bit as upbeat, as passionate and inspirational as the man himself. Rather than focusing on dying, it was a speech about living, about achieving one's dreams, about truly living each day as though it were your last.
“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 karma will take care of itself, the dreams will come to you.”
In the book the speech itself is fleshed out. Pausch presents the reader with the highlights of his life, the outstanding people he met, the fulfillment of his childhood dreams, and the defining principles he learned along the way. These universal principles include Pausch's views on determination and effort: that "life's brick walls are there to give us a chance to show how badly we really want something," the notion that "experience is what you get when you didn't get what you wanted. And experience is often the most valuable thing you have to offer," and a quotation from the philosopher Seneca, that "luck is what happens when preparation meets opportunity." Other important concept include finding the best in others, apologizing when at fault, listening to feedback, and lastly the idea that in the end it is all about having fun. Pausch also describes the way in which he dealt with his diagnosis and the news that his cancer was terminal as well as discussing everything he wants his children to know after his cancer has taken his life. In reality the entire speech was meant for his children.
“There's a lot of talk these days about giving children self-esteem. It's not something you can give; it's something they have to build. Coach Graham worked in a no-coddling zone. Self-esteem? He knew there was really only one way to teach kids how to develop it: You give them something they can't do, they work hard until they find they can do it, and you just keep repeating the process.”
Pausch is a fantastic storyteller, recalling and distilling the essentials of his life's anecdotes with a humour, lack of regret, and lack of self pity that most of us would not be able to muster. The Last Lecture addresses his formative struggles from the angle of challenges requiring optimism, hard work, and creative solutions, which is the way that Randy Pausch seems to have approached the entirety of his life.
“Too many people go through life complaining about their problems. I've always believed that if you took one tenth the energy you put into complaining and applied it to solving the problem, you'd be surprised by how well things can work out.”
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