The Last Lecture
January 3, 2012
Some universities like Stanford have been promoting a lecture series billed as "The Last Lecture," where members of academe are invited to deliver an address based on their most visceral, heartfelt thoughts, as if it were their final lecture. And so it was when Carnegie Mellon computer-science professor Randy Paush, Ph.D took the stage to deliver his. Members of the audience were challenged to ask of themselves, "If I were making my last lecture, what would I impart to the world through this, my last chance?" Captured by Wall Street Journal writer Jeff Zaslow, it seemed an essential Motivator repeat.
As Paush took the stage, he was greeted by a standing ovation from 400 students and colleagues. "Make me earn it," he told them as he motioned for them to sit down. The typical format for a "last lecture" ranges all over the topical map: from self-esteem to sex and indulgence; healthy professors giving hypothetical "last remarks." But for 46-year-old Paush, father of three with pancreatic cancer and a few months to live, "The lecture was a rollicking journey through the lessons of his life," wrote Zaslow. The professor began by showing CT scans revealing 10 tumors, then, quickly shifted to living. "If you expected me to be morose, I'm sorry to disappoint you," he remarked as he dropped to the floor to do one-handed push-ups to his audience's amazement.
Clicking through photos as a boy, he reminisced about childhood dreams -- to win giant stuffed animals at carnivals, to walk in zero gravity, to design Disney rides, to write a World Book entry. By adulthood, Paush had done these things. As proof, students carried out giant stuffed animals he'd won, which he distributed to members of the audience. He wouldn't need them anymore.
He paid tribute to his tech background. "I've experienced a deathbed conversion," he said smiling. "I just bought a Macintosh." Flashing rejection letters on the screen, he talked about setbacks in his career, reminding students and peers that brick walls are there for a reason ... to show us how badly we want things. He encouraged patience with others saying, "Wait long enough and many people will surprise and impress you." He showed pictures of his childhood bedroom with paintings of math notations on the walls with a smiling admonition, "If your kids want to paint their walls, as a favor to me, let them do it." He saluted his parents and his students over the years, and encouraged the audience to help others fulfill their dreams. Finally, he asked that a cake be brought out to celebrate his wife's birthday, and everyone sang "Happy Birthday," wiping tears as they sang.
Dr. Paush's last lecture was taped so his children -- five, two, and one -- could watch it when they're older. His last words in his last lecture were, "This was for my kids." Then, those in the audience rose ... for one last ovation.