Tuesday, October 12, 2010

The Last Lecture by Randy Pausch

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.

Discussion Questions:

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?


Leah A 5-6 said...

I agree with Randy's lecture on life, and life's lessons to live life to the fullest. Today in society, people don’t appreciate the little things in life. They are too worried and busy to "live life to the fullest" and embrace every moment. If i were to write a lecture, I would also write about life, love, and caring about others. My lecture would be about embracing life, and loving and caring for each other. I would focus on how different society is from 20-30 years ago. How people are busy and don't sit down to appreciate their lives. Also, people have too much emotional attachment to objects rather than to people. They care more about their car or iPod rather than their neighbor. This topic is important to learn because you see less and less people loving life. Too many people go living each day with a schedule laid out instead of "living."

Rachael B MOds 5-6 said...

If I could write a lecture to a large audience about anything in the world, I would write on the importance of music. Music is a freeing and intangible form of the arts which moves souls and breathes life into broken hearts and open minds. As a piano player for about fourteen years now, I know what it is like to let an instrument take over your life but also teach so many lessons about freedom and empathy in the process. The composers who wrote sheets of music hundreds of years ago understood what it meant to be human. Instead of becoming prodigies in the terms of mathematics and the scientifical sense, these men were prodigies of the human heart. The way they were able to make the piano speak as well as dive deep into the musical realms of the Romantic and Classical Period shows that they would be able to not only challenge the heartstrings of people from their society but for years to come. I would write about the importance of losing yourself to something that you must learn but after years of dedication and pratice ends up changing YOU more than you have changed it. Sometimes it takes an attatchment to something other than a human being to understand yourself and the world to a much higher degree.

Erika B 13-14 said...

You both have such different views on what to talk about in your theoretical last lecture, which is so great.

Leah, I love how you mix some of Randy's beliefs of life in with your own views. I too feel that many people today do not take the time to appreciate the little things in life and how important family truely is. Both of these things would be perfect to emphasize to people in your last lecture.

Rachael, though I am not a musician myself, I am able to see through friends and family how important music is to the soul. Even just listening to music has a positive affect on any who hear it. By talking about music at your last lecture, many people could be awakened to the new experience of playing an instrument, which could change their lives for the better.

Emily C. 13-14 said...

i agree with Leah, especially talking to college students it would be very important to stress to love and live your life to the fullest. Especially with the economic problems going around in the world today, people are too concerned with providing for their families that they get too wrapped up in enjoying their life and actually having fun. Some people just need to step back and look at life as a whole and see that they might night always have the all the time in the world that they think to enjoy in their life and need to embrace and cherish what they have now, and just enjoy life.

Matt P. 13-14 said...

Personally, I would center my last lecture around the topic of what I feel others should learn based on my personal experiences. I would explain the mistakes that I had made during my life, and pass on what I learned from those mistakes to others. I would talk about the positives from my life and recommend anything I feel that my students should experience before they die, so that they can live a fulfilled life with many interesting experiences. I believe how one lives life is important, but I do not believe what others think of me is as important. I would explain to my students that they should do whatever they feel is right, even if it was not accepted by everyone. I would try to pass on any helpful knowledge that I acquired during my lifetime, so that my students could see that they need to live life to the fullest.

Sydney C.13-14 said...

If someone could get one thing out of my last lecture, I would like it to be "don't sweat the small stuff". I have spent many sleepless high school evenings stressing out about homework, managing volunteer projects, drama with friends and applying to colleges. Through a lot of personal experience, I can confidently say that worrying gets you nowhere. The stress is unhealthy and having a negative mind-set makes homework go by even slower. However, this isn't to say one should live life care-free and neglect tending to responsibilities. Given the chance to teach a final lecture, I would attempt to convey to students the importance of finding the happy balance of a well-managed life with minimal stress.

Erika B 13-14 said...

I think it's interesting that everyone has different opinions on what to talk about in their last lectures, but they all circle back to living life to the fullest and not stressing yourself out. Everyone needs to have a center of balance in their lives, and it's good that so many of us not only are able to see that, but also want to pass that information on to others. Also, I like how Matt mentioned that living life to the fullest is important, but being yourself while you do that is what really makes you a better person. It's important to be true to yourself on this journey that is life.

Richard B. said...

If I were a professor, I would center my last lecture about the hypocrisies of war, and how war accomplishes nothing. Peace and open-mindedness are things very lacking in today's society. In the hostile world we live in today, being able to preach peace to fresh new minds seems to be the ultimate last lecture to me.