The Last Lecture of Professor of Computer Science

Did you know 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.

Many of us tend to drift through life, watching a lot of TV, wasting time in long lines, dealing with "squeaky doors" but not thinking much about how what we do today helps our long term goals and priorities. It usually takes a serious wake-up call for us to realize how precious life is.

Randy Pausch got such a wake-up call. Although he seemed really healthy on the outside, and was a brilliant professor, doctors found that cancer was attacking his systems. He had only a 5% chance of surviving more than five years. He fought the cancer aggressively, but soon it traveled to other parts of his body and his doctors were giving him 3-6 months of healthy living. This is a man who, after waiting a while for marriage, had a family of three small children. Coincidentally, Randy was also asked by his school to give a "last lecture". These lectures are traditional speeches where a teacher tells the audience what knowledge he'd want to impart if he was going to die soon. Since Randy was in fact going to die soon, it made the meaning that much more powerful to him.

Randy's lecture was videotaped and spread like wildfire on YouTube. This book is in essence a follow up to that talk. It describes the context for the talk, and goes over some of the background details for it, but it also expands and offers much more information about Randy, his life and his philosophy.

The book speaks to many for the purpose that it brings up all the nostalgia and experiences that we either had or longed for in our lives. At times it does seep with Hollywood syrupiness, but it is written for a variety of people to be able to understand and relate to. Randy was writing a book for his family and friends (and those of us lucky enough to have read the book or listened to the lecture).

With good humor, zest, and grace, Randy discusses pursuing your dreams, no matter how improbable they seem; showing gratitude to those who help you; behaving with integrity at all times; and always retaining the curiosity you had as a child. One of his favorite words is "cool," and it is obvious that he adored talking about "pixels, multi-screen workstations, and the information superhighway." He had a great time working on virtual reality projects with his students and even spent a sabbatical at Walt Disney Imagineering in California.

Pausch is big enough to admit that he sometimes behaved like an arrogant jerk, but fortunately there was always someone nearby to take him down a peg. As a result, he adjusted his attitude and learned to be less brash. He wanted to leave behind a meaningful legacy, to urge everyone to work hard and be creative, mentor those who need and deserve support, give of oneself to the community at large, and set aside time to have fun with one's spouse and children. Randy's family can take comfort in the fact that he enlightened and inspired men and women all over the world who, thanks to him, may be facing each day with more compassion, optimism, and enthusiasm. 

After reading this book it is easy to see that Randy Pausch captured 100% of the goal he tried to accomplish. That goal was to let the reader know that life is what you make it, and if one goal they want to go after, no one is holding them back. His biggest mantra was the word acceptance. This word followed him throughout the book because it applied to not only his adulthood, but his childhood as well. In his last lecture, he got a packed house and spread his vision to the best of his ability.