The Last Lecture

Name of the Book: The Last Lecture
Author: Prof. Randy Pausch
Publisher: Hodder & Stoughton, UK
Year: 2008
Pages: 216
ISBN : 978 0 340 977736

Khwaja Shahid

It is an interesting practice in some American universities to ask eminent retiring faculty members to deliver their 'last lecture'. They are expected to offer reflections on their personal and professional journeys. When Prof. Randy Pausch, a professor of computer science at Carnegie Mellon University, was asked to give his last lecture, it actually turned into his last lecture as he was already diagnosed of terminal cancer.  According to his doctor he was left with a few months to live. Prof. Pausch with his wife and three children had moved to another city so that after his death they could be near to her family.  He had decided to spend his remaining time with his kids and family.  His wife initially did not like the idea of his spending time on preparing and delivering the lecture; but she finally gave in as she realised that 'an injured lion still wants to roar'.  Prof. Randy Pauch decided to speak about his childhood dreams and called his last lecture: "Really Achieving, Your Childhood Dreams"; he believed that despite his cancer he was a lucky man and he managed to fulfill almost all his dreams. He thought that his lecture "might help others find a path of fulfiling their own dreams". Sure enough, his lecture became a hit.  He was soon on Internet, in newspapers, on TV channels including famous Oprah Winfry's TV show and then he decided to get his lecture published as a book titled The Last Lecture which became No.1 best seller.

Prof. Randy Pausch had worked at Disney's also and learnt by heart to what Walt Disney has said, "if you can dream it, you can do it". He showed to his audience that he has numerous tumors in his pancreas and liver and said “we can't change it. We just have to decide how we will respond. We cannot change the cards we are dealt, just how we play the hand is important.”

Prof. Pausch's remarkable book tells us to bring something to the table because that will make you more welcome. His lesson is clear: everyone should contribute to the social well-being of his society and world. It is our duty. All of us have to contribute to make our lives more beautiful. He grew up comfortably in his young age and believed that he got the best parents which he won in the  lottery. His father taught him that if you dispense your own wisdom, others often dismiss it; if you offer wisdom through a third party, it seems less arrogant and more acceptable. He  also learnt from his father that even if your were in a position of strength, you had to play fair. "Just because you are in the driver's seat, doesn't mean you have to run vehicle over". The message is very clear that "kids should know that their parents love them". Our younger generation may learn a lot from the admiration which Prof. Pausch has shown for his parents. His 'middle class' values also taught him that there should be a balance in life between aspiration and pragmatism.      

In one of his interesting anecdotes, Prof. Pausch tells us that he could not make to the national football league but he learnt more from pursuing that dream and not accomplishing it. Thus, there are lessons for all of us to learn from failures. Failures teach us that our fundamentals should be clear as fancy stuff is not going to work. The book explicitly tells us that critics are often the ones who love you and care about you, and want to make you better. The author's experience tells us to work hard enough; you will be able to do things tomorrow which you are not able to do today.  He admired Captain Kirk of famous 'Star Trek' TV serial due to his entrepreneurship, courage and decision-making, i.e., leadership. A lesson for leadership in office, family, group and society, for all of us.

Prof. Pausch has a message for teachers also. When he narrated his own story of interaction with academicians in connection with his sabatical leave, one of them told him that it was not a good idea to join a Disney project. The dean was more receptive and asked him: “do you think it is a good idea. I don't have enough information but I know that one of my faculty member is excited. So tell me more about it”.

The most important role of a teacher is to help students learn how to learn. Prof. Pausch’s book is full of such stories where he explains us how a professor could be a good teacher to his students. Perhaps a must reading for all our Indian professors.

The book about Prof. Pausch's dreams reassures us that we should dream and dream big. We should fuel and fuel our kids dream too. There are brickwalls in life but they give us a chance to show how badly we want something. He says “too many people go through life complaining about their problems”. He believes that if you could put one tenth the energy you put into complaining and apply it to solving the problems you will be surprised by how well things can work out. He came across a gentleman who at a young age met with an accident and spent the rest of his life as a quadriplegic, but he did not give up. He worked hard and became a licensed marriage counselor, got married, adopted children and when he talked about his medical issues, he did so as a matter of fact.

Prof. Pausch’s messages are clear from the titles of various chapters of the book. Some of them go like this: "Look for the Best in Everybody"; "Watch What They Do, Not What They Say"; "If at First You Don't Succeed...."; "The Lost Art of Thank-You-Notes"; "Loyalty is a Two-Way Street"; "Show Gratitude"; "A Bad Apology Is Worse Than No Apology"; "Tell the Truth". In fact, he is telling us that "you are only as good as your words". Aren't we careful about selection of our words? Our words, our thoughts and action leave a lot more to desire. The basic message from the book is clear. It is not about how to achieve your dreams, it is about how to live your life. If you lead your life right way, Karma will take care of itself. The dreams should come to you. I think the book is a must for those who are in a mad rush of materialistic success at the cost of value-based peaceful life.