Last week I had the opportunity to read The Last Lecture by Randy Pausch. If you are unfamiliar with the story of Randy Pausch, it is quite an inspiring one. Randy was a professor at Carnegie Mellon University. The university put on a seminar series, originally titled “The Last Lecture,” which was later retitled to “Journeys.” The idea was that for each seminar, one of the university’s professors would be invited and asked to answer the hypothetical questions “What wisdom would you impart to the world if you knew that it was your last chance? What would you want as your legacy?”
Randy was invited to participate in the series. For Randy, the questions were not hypothetical. Just prior to receiving the invitation, Randy had been diagnosed with pancreatic cancer, a disease with extremely rare chances of survival. While Randy could have declined the invitation to speak, he chose to embrace the opportunity and sought to leave a legacy to his young children. After several weeks of planning, Randy delivered the seminar “Really Achieving Your Childhood Dreams” to a packed auditorium. The seminar was also videotaped and became a YouTube phenomenon.
The book serves as follow up to the lecture. I found Randy’s optimistic outlook to be inspirational. Despite being told he only had months to live, Randy sought to make the most of his remaining time with his friends and family. The book is a compilation of brief stories and life lessons that he wished to share with his children and the world.
While Randy’s prognosis was grim, it did give him the opportunity to enjoy his last days to the fullest and do what he could to ease his family’s transition to a father-less household. Randy spent as much quality time with his family as possible, but also spent time leaving memories for his young children. He wrote several letters to his children, videotaped memoirs, took his children on individual trips, and helped his family move to Virginia so they would be closer to extended family that could help and support his wife and children after his death.
As Randy says,
There are so many things Jai [Randy’s wife] and I are discussing as we work to come to terms with what her life will be like after I’m gone. “Lucky” is a strange word to use to describe my situation, but a part of me does feel fortunate that I didn’t get hit by the proverbial bus. Cancer has given me the time to have these vital conversations with Jai that wouldn’t be possible if my fate were a heart attack or a car accident.
I would highly recommend the book to anyone that has not read it. Despite the somber circumstances of its writing, the book is written in a light-hearted and witty manner and is a quick read.
If you would like to watch Randy’s last lecture, it can be seen on YouTube:
More information about Randy Pausch and The Last Lecture is also available on the Carnegie Mellon University website.