“The Last Lecture” by Randy Pausch

In the introduction we find out that the author is sick, VERY sick. Riddled with tumors, he realizes that he only has a few months to live and he needs to figure out the very best way to ease the pain of his passing to his 3 children and wide, as well as do as many fatherly/husbandly duties as he is able in his remaining time, including some of the things that require his children being older than they are currently. His solution was to write down, with the help of his friend Jeffrey Zaslow, 53 “lectures” that would hopefully pass along as many of the important lessons as he could fit, in conjunction with his “Last Lecture” done at Carnegie Mellon.

While seen as a point of contention by his wife at first this “Last Lecture” was intended to stand out as a message to his children, showing them what he wanted to accomplish throughout his life, and to explain how they too could accomplish their goals. Using the story telling formula that his dad had used all of his life, he arranges humorous anecdotes framed with moral guidance.

His book is broken down into six parts. Each of them representing an important vein of lessons, all separate but still referring to his “last lecture” and discussing how to garner the important lesson from his stories told.

In the first section “The Last Lecture” he discusses some of the problems that he would face when deciding to work on his final address to the University, while still ensuring that he was doing right by his family. The first problem he runs into is that of retaining dignity in the face of death, “An injured lion still wants to roar” (Pausch, 2008). He talks about what his process was for structuring his very important lecture, he talks about his trip to Pittsburg to give his talk, and finally he discusses the opening statement of his speech. “The elephant in the room” is the name of the chapter, his words of advice were to introduce the elephant in the room. He does this by discussing his cancer and then showing that he is healthy and able, and also dying of cancer.

The Second Segment is about achieving the things in life that you had originally set out to do. His list is extensive, and his successes are many, but the wisdom we find in this section lie in his perseverance and dedication to doing the things that we say we’re going to. Using tools like tenacity and a positive outlook, he tells us about how he came to work for Disney, go on a zero gravity flight, and author a page in the World book encyclopedia. He also ensures us that, while he doesn’t advise cheating, it is okay to “lean a little” when playing the ring toss (Pausch, 2008) and ensures us that is okay to step away from the potentially stressful eyes of family, even if you are trying to accomplish things for them.

“Adventures… and Lessons learned”, keeping theme with the book is exactly what it sounds like. Our professor talks about time spent with his wife, when he first found out his cancer had returned and his condition was terminal, about Jai (his wife) accomplishing some of her life goals. He also has some interesting insight about feeling happy and enjoying life after receiving his prognosis became terminal. The example of “The Man in the Convertible” is a fun one where a coworker of Pausch sees a man riding around in a convertible car, listening to music and smiling, not knowing who he was she thinks to herself “this guy has it figured out, enjoying life”. When se pulled up beside him she recognizes that it is her friend, a man who had been diagnosed with cancer that would kill him in just a short amount of time. She emailed him about it, the outsider’s perspective was very validating for Randy because he was seen as happy even though he was unaware he was being seen or recognized. This chapter of the book is filled with numerous examples of exciting life lessons that show us, a life well lived can be fun to look back on but can also be shared in a way that people who look back on that life can learn.

In the fourth section of the book the author talks about some of the things that he had done in his life to help others. “Enabling the Dreams of Others” talks about different instances in the authors life where he had been able to help people achieve their dreams or become better people. He helps his students to become nicer people, he discusses his large scale projects and the impact that they had on his students (and even students who weren’t his), and finally talks about how he helped a student of his achieve his dream of working on Star Wars, and how that student in turn helped him and his students.

The last two chapters are about straight forward tips to having a better life and discussing how he wants his family to live and be happy and successful. He writes about his children and his wife, telling them that he loves them and wants them to continue to follow their dreams, never relenting, as he would have chosen to live his life. I think that he does a wonderful job ensuring that his wants and needs for his family are addressed but he is adamant that he only wants them to do what will make them happy. In “Dreams for my Children” he talks about how he prays that his kids do not feel pressured to follow “whatever path the chose” (Pausch, 2008).

If I were in Pausch’s shoes, would I do the same? Obviously, this is a question that is only answerable when placed in the situation but I would like to think that I would be able to keep the same level of emotional stability. There is no way that this was an easy thing to do, writing down and immortalizing a comprehensive list of ‘How to be a good Person’ or ‘How to live the Right Life’ is no easy undertaking. While I do think that it is admirable and I’m certain that his children will be thankful to have something to look back on and understand their father, I don’t think that I would have wanted to do something so grand. I would be much more inclined to follow the advice of Jai, spend all the remaining time with friends and family.

I do NOT have my affairs in order, I think that is mostly to do with the fact that my living life is not yet in order. I have so many things to accomplish, the predominant arch of Pausch’s story was if you follow your dreams, they will come true if you work hard and do the right things. I have not yet been able to accomplish so many of my goals. The things that cannot “be finished” are things like, spend more time with wife and children, or have more happy times with people I love, I expect that I will be sad and feel partly unfulfilled about that but I imagine also that everyone would.

It has been my experience that, as in all things, both long drawn out deaths and sudden unexpected deaths both have pro’s and con’s (if there is such thing as a “pro” in death). In the “proverbial bus crash” death (Pausch, 2008) there is considerably less financial strain or long term stressors of the slow hospital bound death, late nights of family members wondering (seemingly) endlessly, “will tonight be the last night”?. The con’s there are, unanswered questions, and maybe the feeling of having to grieve alone. When Somebody is terminally ill, you have the opportunity to grieve with them, to some degree. Were it up to me, I think that it is an amazing luxury to have any amount of time with family, especially if that time is designated to making amends and getting things in order.


Pausch, (2008). The Last Lecture. Adobe Acrobat eBook Reader, March 2008



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Evan Carter

Evan Carter

Never send to know for whom the bells tolls, it tolls for thee.