I’d heard about something called The Last Lecture back when it first started generating buzz over a year ago, but I’m always slow to try out the latest “Internet sensations” because these things tend to disappoint more often than not. But after all this time, the story of Randy Pausch, the former Carnegie Mellon University professor who bravely battled pancreatic cancer still resonates for millions of people. I finally read the book and watched the actual lecture over the weekend — and both were pretty amazing.
Pausch’s last lecture was a talk given at CMU as part of a regular series that the university put on for students. Basically, professors in different disciplines are asked to put together a “final talk”, something that they’d want to leave students with if they never spoke in their area of expertise again.
Paush, a computer science prof, went in a more literal direction, as he had just been diagnosed with terminal cancer and had only a few months left to live. He decided to talk not strictly about computer science, but about how to live a good life. To him, that meant achieving your childhood dreams and helping others to achieve theirs.
The lecture, which lasted for one hour and sixteen minutes, covers a variety of topics, starting with Pausch’s childhood, and moving on to the personal milestones he has achieved, the highlights of his teaching career, and carving out what he hopes to be his legacy.
In the book, Pausch explains that he deliberately decided not to talk about the most important things in his life, his wife and children, because he didn’t think he would be able to hold it together for that long. But nevertheless, we see at the end that it was really all for them anyway.
The book, which followed the lecture, is obviously similar to the original talk and uses many of the same quotes and photographs (Pausch used slides in his lecture). But the book of course contains a lot more stuff that Pausch couldn’t fit into the lecture, and gives even more detailed information on some of the things he touched upon in the original talk. I found that watching the lecture first and then reading the book was a good way to take in the whole experience.
While there’s not exactly a lot of ground-breaking advice in Pausch’s Last Lecture, the professor’s charisma and upbeat delivery make the time fly by, and of course the message is worthwhile for everyone.
Check out the video on YouTube by following the link below. Pausch’s Last Lecture has been viewed more than 8.2 million times to date — a staggering number for sure!