The Last Lecture

A few days back I read a book “The Last Lecture.” I had the book for a couple of months, but read it only last week. The book is about the final lecture given by a computer science professor at Carnegie Mellon University (CMU)—Randy Pausch. The CMU has the practice of asking its professors to give talks titled “The Last Lecture,” where the professors are asked to think about their death and tell the audience about the lessons they learned and pass on their wisdom.

In the case of Randy Pausch, it really was his last lecture. He was diagnosed with terminal pancreatic cancer in August, 2007 and had about 2–5 months of good healthy life left. On September 18, 2007, Randy stepped in front of an audience of 400 people at CMU and delivered his last lecture called “Really Achieving Your Childhood Dreams.” It was a one-of-a-kind last lecture that made the world stop and pay attention. It became an Internet sensation and was viewed by billions of people from all parts of the world.

The last lecture delivered by a man who had just months to live was surprisingly not about death. It was not about coping with cancer either. It was about the importance of having dreams, overcoming obstacles, achieving one’s dreams, helping and enabling others to achieve their dreams, seizing every moment in life, etc. It was a summation of everything Randy had come to believe. It was about living and having fun.

While each point in the lecture is great advice, I was more impressed with Randy’s positive attitude and outlook towards life. One of his philosophies, which I also strongly believe in, is “we cannot change the cards we are dealt, just how we play the hand.” Life is not a bed of roses. There will be difficulties, hardships, challenges, and failures. You cannot control that. But you can decide how you react to these. You can sulk and wallow in self-pity or you can fight back. You can fight back with the resources that you are left with. According to Randy, when odds are against you, you should stop whining and work harder. That is great advice.

In March, 2008, Diane Sawyer of ABC News interviewed him. There is one section which I really thought was profound.

DS: Is it fair?
RP: I think it is unlucky. It is unfortunate. But I don’t think it is unfair. Because I have children and I always tell them, you know, if you flip a coin and if it comes up tails and if you had called heads that is not unfair. That is just the way world works.

The thing I liked most about his attitude is that he holds no grudge. There are no ‘why me?’, ‘why now?’ questions. He accepts the fact that fate has dealt a bad card and makes every effort to live the remaining time he has to the fullest.

I think that is that attitude that we should take when we pass through bad phases in our lives. Some people are lucky and some are not. That is how ‘the world works.’ So, if you happen to be among those who are unlucky, you still can make life work for you, have fun, help others, most importantly inspire others.

Randy Pausch was a teacher and must have inspired and motivated thousands of students during his teaching career. But through a 75-minute lecture and a book based on that, he has inspired and is still inspiring millions of people worldwide. That is the power of the courage and positive attitude. That is why it is worth taking the blows and still keep fighting. That is why love and compassion for others matter.

I request all of you to watch the last lecture and read the book. You will definitely gain a great deal of wisdom.

PS: Randy died on July 25, 2008 at his family’s home in Chesapeake, Virginia at the age of 47. He is survived by his wife and three children.


  1. S said,

    October 26, 2010 at 11:26 pm

    Very inspiring read…..would like to add that along with love and compassion; a forgiving heart goes a long way in helping one deal with the many unfortunate things that befall us. Having said that, it is also the most difficult thing to do!

  2. Paresh said,

    October 27, 2010 at 12:50 am

    Don’t think I am fit enough to make any comment here. So, just saying Thank you. 🙂

  3. TME said,

    October 27, 2010 at 7:32 am

    Facing adversities gracefully is real tough.That was a real motivating post for me.Thanks a lot for sharing it.It made my day.

  4. Bindu said,

    October 28, 2010 at 7:27 am

    The book was gifted to me by a friend when I was going through a bad phase and it really really helped. As you rightly said, the way he handled the bad card he was dealt with is really amazing ans inspiring.

  5. Bindu said,

    October 28, 2010 at 7:37 am

    Reproduction in animals was hilarious. While I was carrying Naomi, my son used to ask me lots of these questions and I answered in the best and discrete possible way I could. Had forgotten what all I had told him until last month when he asked his father,”Achacha, my birthday is in November, so amma must have got pregnant in February right? Did she pregnant on her birthday?”
    Father almost fell off his chair 🙂

  6. Alexis Leon said,

    October 28, 2010 at 12:21 pm

    S: Thank you for the comments.

    Paresh: I don’t agree with your first sentence 🙂

    Tulasy: Very true and you are welcome.

    Bindu: Hi Bindu, long time no see. Hope all is well and all are fine at home. I can imagine Manoj’s reaction 🙂

  7. S said,

    October 28, 2010 at 5:19 pm

    Most welcome

  8. Maya said,

    October 31, 2010 at 11:18 am

    Very inspring story. I saw the lecture. Will get the book. Thanks for sharing.

  9. Alexis Leon said,

    November 7, 2010 at 11:23 am

    Maya: Thanks Maya.