Sunday, April 13, 2008

A Great Teacher's Last Lecture

Randy Pausch is dying of cancer. He gave the best "last lecture" I have ever read. As a computer scientist at Carnegie Mellon University, he has done some amazing things in the computer world. What gripped me the most, as a teacher, were the extraordinary things he did to push students to push themselves to learn, and to honor and appreciate them when they did. More, he has a noble vision of the university clearing the way for students and teachers to work together to push themselves to learn. The whole speech moved me to tears as it has others.

The teaching stories are the best. I will give you a couple of the other tales and wisdom, told with gratitude, that give a flavor of his tone.

When I was here studying to get my Ph.D. and I was taking something called the theory qualifier, which I can definitively say is the second worst thing in my life after chemotherapy. [laughter] And I was complaining to my mother about how hard this test was and how awful it was, and she just leaned over and she patted me on the arm and she said, we know how you feel honey, and remember when your father was your age he was fighting the Germans. [laugher] After I got my Ph.D., my mother took great relish in introducing me as, this is my son, he’s a doctor but not the kind that helps people.

Work hard. I got tenure a year early. Junior faculty members used to say to me, wow, you got tenure early. What’s your secret? I said, it’s pretty simple. Call my any Friday night in my office at ten o’clock and I’ll tell you.

Show gratitude. When I got tenure I took all of my research team down to Disneyworld for a week. And one of the other professors at Virginia said, how can you do that? I said these people just busted their ass and got me the best job in the world for life. How could I not do that?

A book of the lecture has been made to benefit the pancreatic cancer research foundation. The full transcript of the lecture is here.


Anonymous said...

How inspiring Randy Pausch is! If you liked "The Last Lecture", another fantastic memoir I just read and highly recommend is "My Stroke of Insight" by Dr. Jill Bolte Taylor. Her TEDTalk video ( has been seen as many times as The Last Lecture I think, and Oprah did 4 shows on her book, so there are a lot of similarities. In My Stroke of Insight, there's a happy ending though. It's an incredible story! I hear they're making it into a movie.

Gruntled said...

I have read about Dr. Taylor's remarkable providential outcome of her scary stroke. The mind is truly a wondrous thing.