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Keynote: The Last Lecture – Jeffrey Zaslow


This Keynote was given Tuesday afternoon. It was based on the book The Last Lecture by Randy Pausch and Jeffrey Zaslow. The book was written after Randy Pausch gave his last lecture in September 2007, which you can see here. Randy Pausch was a computer science professor at Carnegie Mellon who was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer; they gave him around 6 weeks to live. He decided to put together what he called his ‘last lecture’ and present some life lessons and messages he wanted to leave his for 3 kids. Below are some of the main points I wrote down from the keynote given by the co-author of the book:

Life is full of transition moments: falling in love, first kiss, graduating, your first job, etc. The Last Lecture is an advice book for those moments when our lives transition to something different. The Last Lecture presentation started when Randy asked his fellow professors to give a presentation answering the following question: If you had one last lecture to give, what would you say? Randy was 46 years old when he was diagnosed and given only a few weeks to live.

He decided he was going to have fun during his last days and spend his final time with his family and kids. Here was a day-to-day log he kept of his final days. Randy was a very accomplished professional. He helped develop many computer applications, including heading the Alice Project. He spoke a lot about Tenacity. He said that experience is what you get when you don’t get what you want. The brick walls are there for a reason. They are there for you to show how badly you want something.

As a small child, he would draw and write math formulas all over his bedroom walls. His parents let him do it. Let your children be creative and express themselves. Mr. Zaslow told a story about him and Randy being together to write the book. The goal of the book was to finish it and let him have it in his hands before he passed. One day, they passed by the grocery store to grab some items for his family. They paid using the self-check out lane and by mistake he paid for the items twice. Mr. Zaslow asked if he wanted to complain and ask for his money back, Randy replied ‘I’m dying. I would rather have the 15 minutes than the 16 dollars I spent on these groceries, let’s go’. The truth is, we’re all dying; maybe not all at the same pace, but we’re all dying. We can’t keep spending time on the small, petty things – at work or at home.

Randy reluctantly made some TV appearances before dying, Good Morning America, Oprah etc. He said no to most of the shows offering him appearances because he wanted to enjoy his last days with his family.

Randy liked to criticize people; but he criticized not to make someone feel bad, but to help them change and grow. Criticize people in a way to help them judge themselves better and grow. A professor at LSU says he blames Mr. Rogers for this generation’s troubles, why? Because Mr. Rogers told everyone that they were special, which made them feel insulted by someone critically criticizing them and giving them advice. Give good advice and always be honest.

Randy played JV football while in high school and he really admired the football coach. The coach showed up to the practice field one day without a football. Everyone was asking what they were going to do without a football. The coach said that there are always 22 people on the field and only 1 football. Today, they were going to take away the 1 person who has the football and look at what the other 21 people are doing.

Randy admitted he was a recovering Jerk. He was very smart and sometimes came off as arrogant. He was voted most likely to annoy someone the first time they met him. A professor met with him once while he was a student and told him he wouldn’t go as far as he could because of his arrogance.

Randy, as a college professor, always gave out what he called the Penguin award to the student who tried something but failed horribly at it. Why a Penguin award? Because there has to be someone who jumps off into the icy water first before everyone else. The bad ideas open up the possibility to see other ideas and can sometime lead to very good things.

Randy was a giant Star Trek fan. Before he died, he was asked to be in the new Star Trek movie and was able to say a line. Randy did not want a movie to be written about his life.

Mr. Zaslow put a question up on the screen and asked us to take a vote. He asked: If you could choose, would you rather die of Cancer or a Heart Attack? The majority of the audience replied (with the audience responders) that they preferred dying of a Heart Attack. Most doctors reply that they would rather die of Cancer, because with Cancer, you have the chance to say Goodbye.

Randy stopped receiving chemo therapy in April. It has been said that it’s not the things we do that we regret on our deathbeds, but the things we DON’T do. You will not find pleasure or fulfillment in money. The value of life is in the relationships you have with PEOPLE. Randy said he waited 39 years to get married because he found the only person  whose happiness matters more to him than his own. Time is all that we have. Use it wisely at home and at work.

Randy Pausch died from pancreatic cancer at his family’s home in Chesapeake, Virginia on July 25, 2008, having moved there so that his wife and children would be near family after his death. He is survived by his wife Jai, and their three children, Dylan, Logan and Chloe.

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