I don’t often read the same book twice, but I’ve made an exception for Randy Pausch’s The Last Lecture. This book has been a New York Times bestseller for more than 40 weeks, and the YouTube video of Pausch’s actual last lecture (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ji5_MqicxSo ) has been viewed more than 8 million times.
In case you’re not familiar with the Pausch story, here’s a highly distilled version:
Pausch, a 46-year-old computer science professor from Carnegie Mellon University, was diagnosed in 2006 with pancreatic cancer. While battling his cancer–and to leave a legacy for his three young children–he gave an inspirational “Last Lecture” at Carnegie Mellon in September, 2007. The video-taped lecture, titled “Really Achieving Your Childhood Dreams,” became an Internet sensation, and his story was featured on The Oprah Winfrey Show, Good Morning America, and a one-hour television special on ABC. Pausch died on July 25, 2008. For more biographical details, see the Wikipedia article. ( http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Randy_Pausch ) and the Last Lecture website ( http://www.thelastlecture.com/ )
Over the years, I’ve “met” (in person or through books and movies) a number of inspirational people. These role models have helped cheer me up when I’m feeling down. They’ve encouraged me to see my life and career in a larger context. When faced with tough decisions, I sometimes envision what these heroes would do.
You’ve probably got your own list of heroes. But if you haven’t already added Randy Pausch to that list, you definitely should.
While there are many inspirational stories to be found in the world, Pausch’s story seems especially real and poignant to me—because he was a scientist, a geek, a nerd. He thought, lived, and eventually died like a scientist. He was full of questions, curiosity, and a desire to make the world a better place.
The moment I fell in love with his story was when I learned about his childhood bedroom:
As a 16-year-old, he convinced his parents to let him paint on the walls of his bedroom. Eventually, the walls featured scenes of rockets, chess pieces, Pandora’s box, and a submarine’s periscope. However, the most important painting on the wall was the quadratic formula. Yes, that quadratic formula…. ( http://www.scienceteecher.com/quadratic.htm )
Anybody who’s proud to proclaim to the world his love of the quadratic formula is a hero in my book.
But Pausch was not just a scientist. He was also a husband, son, father, mentor, teacher, dreamer, doer, story-teller, and philosopher.
His lecture and book are full of big life lessons: “The 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.” And practical tips such as “Keep telephone calls short by standing during the call.“
If you need to jolt yourself out of self-pity or self-importance, this lecture will do it. If you like to laugh and cry at the same time, this lecture will get your tears flowing. And if you need some hard-won career advice from a fellow scientist, this lecture will provide it.
Randy Wedin blogs from Wayzata, MN. After spending a decade working for the ACS and as a Congressional Science Fellow,
he launched a freelance science writing business,
Wedin Communications (www.wedincommunications.com), in 1992.