Within the first two sentences of The Last Lecture, a nonfiction book by Randy Pausch, the reader learns that Randy has ten tumors in his liver and has only a few months left to live. Though what is happening to Randy is tragic and sad, he keeps a very optimistic and light-hearted view on life throughout the book.
The story begins by telling the reader how every college professor holds a "last lecture" before they finish teaching at the school. Each lecture is meant to focus in on a central theme or topic for the talk. Randy took this as an opportunity not to talk about his cancer, but to stress to others how important life is and to make sure to live it to the fullest. He says, "I have a chance here to really think about what matters most to me, to cement how people to remember me, and to do whatever good I can on the way out" (7). He wanted people to know that not only is living life important, but that how one lives life and how one is viewed by others is also important.
After Randy explains the purpose of his last lecture, the novel breaks off into a series of frame stories that all center around the theme of his lecture: life. Almost all of the stories he tells stem from his childhood, such as the time his parents let him use his imagination to paint his room to his liking. The lesson for this being that children need to be given the freedom to express themselves throughout their lives.
Another lesson learned through his childhood was to dream, and dream big. While in elementary school, he dreamed not of becoming an astronaut, but solely the floating aspect of the job. Many years later, he was able to make this dream become a reality. While a professor at Carnegie Mellon, his students were given the opportunity to go in one of NASA's zero-gravity planes. The catch: Professors weren't allowed to go. This did not stop Randy, though, from fulfilling this childhood dream. He found a loophole that allowed a journalist from the students' hometown to join in on the ride, so that is exactly what he did. "I did manage to get on that plane," Randy says, "almost four decades after floating became one of my life goals. It just proves that if you can find an opening, you can probably find a way to float through it" (34).
These are just a few summaries of the frame stories used within the book. The Last Lecture truely makes readers think about what they are doing with their lives. Randy Pausch may have passed on, but the stories of his life telling everyone to dream and believe will surely live on.
1. As stated, this whole book centers around what Randy wants people to learn from him in his last lecture. If you were a professor writing your last lecture, what topic or theme would you center around, and why? (In other words, what would you want people to learn from your lecture?)
2. Randy not only focuses on life throughout the book, but also likes to encourage people to dream big. Make a list of a couple childhood dreams you had or still have and choose one to talk about with the following questions: What sparked your imagination to have this dream? What can you do to accomplish this dream? Is this dream even possible to accomplish? If the dream is not possible, has it stemmed off into a new dream that actually is tangible?