Wednesday, March 9, 2011

The Last Lecture I

About Randy Pausch
On September 18, 2007, computer science professor Randy Pausch stood in front of an audience of 400 people at Carnegie Mellon University to deliver a last lecture called "Really Achieving Your Childhood Dreams."

He started with slides of his CT scans and as a matter-of-factly told his audience about the cancer which was devouring his pancreas and would claim his life in a few months' time. On stage that day laid the cognitive dissonance - Randy was energetic, youthful and often cheerfully, darkly funny. He seemed invisible. Sadly, Randy lost his battle to pancreatic cancer on July 25th, 2008.

Randy's lecture has become a phenomenon. I remembered googling for the You-Tube on his last lecture. Later, I took mental note of the book he wrote based on the same principles, celebrating the dreams we all strive to make realities.

Pittsburgh and Carnegie Mellon University
In a sense, I felt closed to Randy as I once breathed the same air as he did. I stayed for a one short year period in Pittsburgh where my hubby was doing his post-graduate study in the same Carnegie Mellon University. But no, he was not in the computer science faculty. I could also imagine the seemingly unsurmountable challenges that Jai, Randy's wife would have to overcome in the years ahead. But Randy's last lecture and his book will leave a legacy to inspire many to cross the brick wall. Afterall, brick wall is there to bring out the best of our abilities.

A Sampler of The Last Lecture
In this post, I will just give you a sampler of the book.

Randy Pausch describes his cancer as “an engineering problem.” He talks about the lecture as a means of expression, and a way to reach his kids: “If I were a painter, I would have painted for them. If I were a musician, I would have composed music. But I am a lecturer. So I lectured.”

Chapter 1: An Injured Lion Still Wants to Roar
Randy almost didn’t go to Pittsburgh to deliver his last lecture. His wife Jai had wanted him to stay home with her and the kids.
Chapter 3: The Elephant in the Room
Randy decided to begin his talk in a specific way – showing his CT scans, introducing “the elephant in the room,” assuring everyone he’s not in denial, and doing push-ups.

Chapter 4: The Parent Lottery
Randy said he realized many of his dreams because he had terrific parents.

Chapter 5: The Elevator in the Ranch House
In his talk, Randy encouraged parents to allow their children to paint on their bedroom walls. “As a favor to me,” he said, “let ’em do it. Don’t worry about the home’s resale value.” The real message he says he was trying to give was this: Find ways to help your kids be creative. Nurture those instincts in them.

Chapter 6: Getting to Zero G
The chapter ends with the line: “If you can find an opening, you can probably find a way to float through it.”

Chapter 7: I Never Made It to the NFL
This is a chapter about football, but so many of the lessons in it can apply elsewhere in our lives: Talk about ways fundamentals are important off the playing field, too.

Chapter 11: The Happiest Place on Earth
Throughout the book, Randy says: “Brick walls are there for a reason. They’re not there to keep us out. The brick walls are there to give us a chance to show how badly we want something.”

Chapter12: The Park IsOpen Until 8 p.m.
In this chapter, we see Randy as an advocate for his own medical care. We also get a sense of how he decided to adopt a positive attitude.

Chapter 14: The Dutch Uncle
Randy credits his professor Andy van Dam with telling him the tough-love things he needed to hear.

Chapter 15: Pouring Soda in the Backseat
Throughout the book, Randy makes a distinction between “people” and “things.”

Chapter 17: Not All Fairy Tales End Smoothly
In this chapter and chapter 19 (about the birth of his son) Randy reminds readers that even wonderful life events – such as a wedding or the birth of a child – are fraught with unexpected dangers.

Chapter 18: Lucy, I’m Home
Was Randy right? Was there no need to fix the dents in those two damaged cars?

Chapter 21: Jai
It is clear in the book that Randy and Jai have a deep love for one another. And yet, like other married couples, they’ve had to work hard on their relationship. Randy’s illness created additional challenges.

Chapter 23: I’m on My Honeymoon, But If You Need Me…
What do you think of Randy’s time-management tips? Would you have walked out of that grocery store, knowing you overpaid by $16.55? Do you have to-do lists?

Chapter 24: A Recovering Jerk
Randy believes the number one goal for educators should be helping students learn how to judge themselves. How crucial do you think this is in the learning process?

Chapter 27: The Promised Land
Randy and his colleagues tried to attract girls into the field of computer science. He’s proud of “The Alice Project,” and calls it his greatest legacy.

Chapter 28: Dream Big
Randy missed the 1969 moonwalk because he was sent to bed by camp counselors. Have you ever wished adults in your life were less rigid? What advice would you give to adults about helping kids to dream big?

Chapter 29: Earnest Is Better Than Hip
Do you agree with Randy? Is earnest better than hip? Is fashion truly commerce masquerading as hip? Or can fashion be a way in which people express themselves?

Chapter 32: Don’t Complain, Just Work Harder
Randy admired Sandy Blatt and Jackie Robinson because they didn’t complain. As Randy put it: “Complaining is not a strategy.”

Chapter 35: Start By Sitting Together
Have you ever had trouble working in groups? How might Randy’s tips help you get along better with others in the future?

Chapter 39: Be the First Penguin
Randy writes that “experience is what you get when you didn’t get what you wanted.” How do you think his First Penguin Award was able to inspire his students?

Chapter 41: The Lost Art of Thank-You Notes
Do you agree with Randy that handwritten thank-you notes, even in our computer age, can offer a kind of magic? When was the last time you sent a handwritten thank-you?

Chapter 47: A Bad Apology Is Worse Than No Apology
Randy describes two “classic bad apologies.”

Chapter 55: All You Have to Do Is Ask
What would you like to ask for that you haven’t been able to find the courage to articulate? What do you think will happen if you “just ask”?

Chapter 56: Make a Decision: Tigger or Eeyore
OK. So which one are you? And why? If you’d like to be more of a Tigger, how might you go about that?

Chapter 59: Dreams for My Children
Randy says parents don’t realize the power of their words: “Depending on a child’s age and sense of self, an offhand comment from Mom or Dad can feel like a shove from a bulldozer.”

Chapter 61: The Dreams Will Come to You
Randy realized that he didn’t give the lecture because he wanted to. He gave it because he “had to.”

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