Perhaps you have heard of The Last Lecture. Randy Pausch a computer science professor at Carnegie Mellon University, delivered one in 2007. The lecture created a sensation.
As I’ve come to understand it, the idea of a last lecture has been around for a while in academic circles. It’s an opportunity for professors to pretend they have only one last lecture to give, and therefore must sum up their life’s work in a final message for the ages.
In the case of Randy Pausch, it wasn’t pretend. He had been diagnosed with pancreatic cancer and was given only months to live.
His lecture became a touchstone on YouTube, where the number of views at the moment I write this has just reached…let me check again… 2,212,434. The lecture has also been turned into a charming book, which I’ve just finished and recommend. The book contains 60 short chapters, two of which I’d like to mention here.
Service worth its salt
One chapter is titled “The $100,000 Salt and Pepper Shaker.” It tells the story of how when Randy was a boy, he and his sister bought an expensive set of ceramic salt and pepper shakers for their parents, as thanks for taking them to Disney World. Alas, the bag slipped from Randy’s fingers as he walked from the store, and the shakers broke.
Passing adults suggested to the crying Randy that he might tell the store what happened. To his amazement, the store staff replaced the shakers for free.
When Randy’s father heard the story and its happy ending, it made him determined to do his own good deed. For many years afterwards, at his own expense, he arranged to bus economically disadvantaged young people to Disney World. He spent an estimated $100,000 over the years, despite being of modest means.
Original digits—the ones on our hands
The other chapter is titled “The Lost Art of Thank-You Notes,” and its message is about the benefits of an old-fashioned, handwritten note of thanks. Randy tells the story of how a certain handwritten note from an applicant to an elite technology program—a note sent to a secretary who had helped her—ended up changing everything. Coming from a computer science professor who specializes in virtual reality, this tribute to our original digits carries special weight.
The last lecture that will last
Randy continues to wage his battle against cancer, but even when he is gone, the golden rings of positive influence will emanate from that Last Lecture for as long as people watch Randy’s lecture, or read his little book, and apply his lessons in their own lives.
On Randy’s website, www.thelastlecture.com, you’ll find links to the video of his lecture, plus more previews of the book.
The audiobook, which contains an interview with Randy at the end, is available for download at www.Audible.com.