Randy Pausch: The Last Lecture – Part Two

Randy Pausch: The Last Lecture - Part Two
Randy Pausch: The Last Lecture – Part Two

By Anubhav Srivastava ( Register for his Workshop – Build Super Confidence For Super Success!)

Randy Pausch was a professor of Computer Science At Carnegie Mellon University. Diagnosed with Terminal Pancreatic cancer in 2007, Pausch was only given a few months to live. That year he delivered an  outstanding speech to the students and staff at the Carnegie Mellon University which became hugely popular. The speech was titled the Last Lecture and are the words of a man at the edge of death who taught us how to live life.  Pausch passed away in 2008 but not before he made an indelible impact on the world through his great wisdom. As the speech is extremely long it has been edited down. If you have not read Part One, please click here to do so. Here is Part Two


Lessons Learned

We’ve talked about my dreams. We’ve talked about helping other people enable their dreams. Somewhere along the way, there’s got to be some aspect of what lets you get to achieve your dreams.

First one is the role of parents, mentors, and students. I was blessed to have been born to two incredible people. This is my mother on her 70th birthday. I am back here. I have just been lapped. This is my dad riding a roller coaster on his 80th birthday, and he points out that, you know, he’s not only brave; he’s talented, because he did win that big bear the same day.

My dad was so full of life. Anything with him was an adventure. I don’t know what’s in that bag, but I know it’s cool. My dad dressed up as Santa Claus, but he also did very, very significant things to help lots of people. This is a dormitory in Thailand that my mom and dad underwrote, and every year, about 30 students get to go to school who wouldn’t have otherwise. This is something my wife and I have also been involved in heavily, and these are the kind of things that I think everybody ought to be doing, helping others.

But the best story I have about my dad is– unfortunately my dad passed away a little over a year ago, and when we were going through his things– he had fought in World War II in the battle of the Bulge– and when we were going through his things, we found out he had been awarded the Bronze Star for valor. My mom didn’t know it. In 50 years of marriage, it had just never come up.

My mom. Mothers are people who love you even when you pull their hair. And I have two great mom stories. 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.” [laughter]

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 who helps people.” [laughter]

These slides are a little bit dark, but when I was in high school, I decided to paint my bedroom. I’d always wanted a submarine and an elevator. And the great thing about this– what can I say?

And the great thing about this is, they let me do it, and they didn’t get upset about it, and it’s still there. If you go to my parent’s house, it’s still there. And anybody who is out there who is a parent, if your kids want to paint their bedroom, as a favor to me, let them do it, okay? It’ll be okay. Don’t worry about resale value on the house.

Other people who help us besides our parents: our teachers, our mentors, our friends, our colleagues. God, what is there to say about Andy Van Dam? When I was a freshman at Brown, he was on leave, and all I heard about was this Andy Van Dam. He was like a mythical creature, like a centaur, but like a really pissed off centaur, and everybody was, like, really sad that he was gone but kind of more relaxed, and I found out why, because I started working for Andy. I was a teaching assistant for him as a sophomore, and I was quite an arrogant young man, and I came in to some office hours, and of course it was 9:00 at night, and Andy was there at office hours, which is your first clue as to what kind of professor he was.

And I come bounding in, and, you know, I’m just–I’m going to save the world. There’re all these kids waiting for help, da da, da da, da da, da da. And afterwards, Andy literally dutch-uncled–he’s Dutch, right? He dutch-uncled me, and he put his arm around my shoulders, and we went for a little walk, and he said, “Randy, it’s such a shame that people perceive you as so arrogant, because it’s going to limit what you’re going to be able to accomplish in life.”

What a hell of a good way to word “You’re being a jerk.” Right? He doesn’t say, “You’re a jerk.” He says, “People are perceiving you this way,” and he says, “The downside is, it’s going to limit what you’re going to be able to accomplish.”
When I got to know Andy better, the beatings became more direct. I could tell you Andy stories for a month, but the one I will tell you is that when it came time to start thinking about what to do after graduating from Brown, it had never occurred to me in a million years to go to graduate school, just out of my imagination. It wasn’t the kind of thing people from my family did.

We got, say, what do you call them? Jobs. And Andy said, “No, don’t go do that. Go get a Ph.D. Become a professor.”

And I said, “Why?”

And he said, “Because you’re such a good salesman that any company who gets you is going to use you as a salesman, and you might as well be selling something worthwhile like education.”


Andy was my first boss, so to speak. I was lucky enough to have a lot of bosses. That red circle is way off. Al is over here. I don’t know what the hell happened there. He’s probably watching this on the webcast going, “My god, he’s targeting, and he still can’t aim!”

I don’t want to say much about the great bosses I’ve had except that they were great, and I know a lot of people in the world have had bad bosses, and I haven’t had to endure that experience, and I’m very grateful to all of the people that I ever had to report to. They’ve just been incredible.

But it’s not just our bosses. We learn from our students. I think the best head fake of all time comes from Caitlin Kelleher– excuse me, Dr. Caitlin Kelleher– who just finished up here and is starting at Washington University, and she looked at Alice when it was an easier way to learn to program, and she said, “Yeah, but why is that fun?”

I was like, “Well, because I’m a compulsive male. I like to make the little toy soldiers move around by my command, and that’s fun.”

She’s like, “Hmm.”

And she was the one who said, “No, we’ll just approach it all as a storytelling activity.” And she’s done wonderful work showing that, particularly with middle school girls, if you present it as a storytelling activity, they’re perfectly willing to learn how to write computer software. So all-time best head fake award goes to Caitlin Kelleher’s dissertation.

President Cohon, when I told him I was going to do this talk, he said, “Please tell them about having fun, because that’s what I remember you for.”

And I said, “I can do that, but it’s kind of like a fish talking about the importance of water.” I mean, I don’t know how to not have fun. All right, I’m dying, and I’m having fun, and I’m going to keep having fun every day I have left, because there’s no other way to play it. All right?

So my next piece of advice is, you just have to decide if you’re a tigger or you’re an eeyore. I think I’m clear where I stand on the great tigger-eeyore debate.

Never lose the childlike wonder. It’s just too important. It’s what drives us. Help others. Denny Proffitt knows more about helping other people. He’s forgotten more than I’ll ever know. He’s taught me by example how to run a group, how to care about people.

M.K. Haley– I have a theory that people who come from large families are better people, because they’ve just had to learn how to get along. M.K. Haley comes from a family with 20 kids. Yeah, unbelievable. And she always says, “It’s kind of fun to do the impossible.”

When I first got to Imagineering, she was one of the people who dressed me down, and she said, “I understand you’ve joined the Aladdin project. What can you do?”

And I said, “well, I’m a tenured professor of computer science.”

And she said, “Well, that’s very nice professor boy, but that’s not what I asked. I said, ‘What can you do?’”

And you know, I mentioned sort of my working-class roots. We keep what is valuable to us, what we cherish, and I’ve kept my letterman’s jacket all these years. I used to like wearing it in grad school, and one of my friends, Jessica Hodgins would say, “Why do you wear this letterman’s jacket?”

And I looked around at all the non-athletic guys around me who were much smarter than me, and I said, “Because I can.”

And so she thought that was a real hoot, so one year she made for me this little raggedy randy doll. He’s got a little letterman’s jacket too. That’s my all-time favorite. It’s the perfect gift for the egomaniac in your life.

So I’ve met so many wonderful people along the way. Loyalty is a two-way street. There was a young man named Dennis Cosgrove at the University of Virginia, and when he was a young man, let’s just say things happened, and I found myself talking to a dean, and the dean– no, not that dean. And anyway, this dean really had it in for Dennis and I could never figure out why, because Dennis was a fine fellow, but for some reason, this dean really had it in for him.

And I ended up basically saying, “No, I vouch for Dennis.” And the guy says, “You’re not even tenured yet, and you’re telling me you’re going to vouch for this sophomore or junior or whatever?” I think he was a junior at the time. I said, “Yeah, I’m going to vouch for him, because I believe in him.”

And the dean said, “And I’m going to remember this when your tenure case comes up.”

And I said, “Deal.” I went back to talk to Dennis, and I said, “I would really appreciate you– that would be good.” But loyalty is a two-way street. I mean, that was god knows how many years ago, but that’s the same Dennis Cosgrove who’s carrying Alice forward. He’s been with me all these years, all right.

And you know, if we only had one person to send in a space probe to meet an alien species, I’m picking Dennis.

You can’t give a talk at Carnegie Mellon without acknowledging one very special person, and that would be Sharon Burks. I joked with her. I said, “Well, look, if you’re retiring, it’s just not worth living anymore.”

Sharon is so wonderful, it’s beyond description, and for all of us who have been helped by her, it’s just indescribable.

I love this picture, because it puts her together with Syl, and Syl is great, because Syl gave the best piece of advice pound for pound that I have ever heard, and I think all young ladies should hear this.

Syl said, “It took me a long time, but I’ve finally figured it out. When it comes to men that are romantically interested in you, it’s really simple. Just ignore everything they say and only pay attention to what they do. It’s that simple. It’s that easy.”

And I thought back to my bachelor days, and I said, “Damn.”

Never give up. I didn’t get into Brown University. I was on the wait list. I called them up, and they eventually decided that it was getting really annoying to have me call every day, so they let me in.

At Carnegie Mellon, I didn’t get into graduate school. Andy had mentored me. He said, “Go to graduate school. You’re going to Carnegie Mellon. All my good students go to Carnegie Mellon.” And, yeah, you know what’s coming.

And so he said, “You’re going to go to Carnegie Mellon, no problem.” What he had kind of forgotten was that the difficulty of getting into the top Ph.D program in the country had really gone up, and he also didn’t know I was going to tank my GREs, because he believed in me, which, based on my board scores, was a really stupid idea, and so I didn’t get into Carnegie Mellon. No one knows this till today. I’m telling the story.

I was declined admission to Carnegie Mellon, and I was a bit of an obnoxious little kid. I went into Andy’s office and I dropped the rejection letter on his desk. And I said, “I just want you to know what your letter of recommendation goes for at Carnegie Mellon.”

And before the letter had hit his desk, his hand was on the phone, and he said, “I will fix this.”

And i said, “No, no, no, I don’t want to do it that way. That’s not the way I was raised. You know, maybe some other graduate schools will see fit to admit me.”

And he said, “Look. Carnegie Mellon’s where you’re going to be.” He said, “I’ll tell you what. I’ll make you a deal. Go visit the other schools.” Because I did get into all the other schools. He said, “Go visit the other schools, and if you really don’t feel comfortable at any of them, then will you let me call Nico?” Nico being Nico Habermann.

And I said, “Okay, deal.” I went to the other schools. Without naming them by name– Berkeley, Cornell– they managed to be so unwelcoming that I found myself saying to Andy, “you know, I’m going to get a job.” And he said, “No, you’re not,” And he picked up the phone, and he talked in Dutch.

And he hung up the phone, and he said, “Nico says if you’re serious, be in his office tomorrow morning at 8:00 a.m.”

And for those of you who know Nico, this is really scary. So I’m in Nico Habermann’s office the next morning at 8:00 a.m., and he’s talking with me, and frankly, I don’t think he’s that keen on this meeting. I don’t think he’s that keen at all.

And he says, “Randy, why are we here?”

and I said, “Because Andy phoned you?” And I said, “Well, since you admitted me, I have won a fellowship, the Office of Naval Research, it’s a very prestigious fellowship. I’ve won this fellowship, and that wasn’t in my file when I applied.”

And Nico said, “A fellowship, money, we have plenty of money.” That was back then. And he said, “We have plenty of money. Why do you think having a fellowship makes any difference to us?” And he looked at me.

There are moments that change your life, and ten years later, if you know in retrospect it was one of those moments, you’re blessed, but to know it at the moment with Nico staring through your soul…and I said, “I didn’t mean to imply anything about the money. It’s just that it was an honor. There were only 15 given nationwide, and I did think it was an honor that would be something that would be meritorious, and I apologize if that was presumptuous.”

And he smiled, and that was good.
So how do you get people to help you? You can’t get there alone. People have to help you, and I do believe in karma. I believe in paybacks. You get people to help you by telling the truth, being earnest. I’ll take an earnest person over a hip person every day, because hip is short-term. Earnest is long-term.

Apologize when you screw up and focus on other people, not on yourself. And I thought, how do I possibly make a concrete example of that? Do we have a concrete example of focusing on somebody else over there? Could we bring it out?

See, yesterday was my wife’s birthday. If there was ever a time I might be entitled to have the focus on me, it might be the last lecture. But no, I feel very badly that my wife didn’t really get a proper birthday, and I thought it would be very nice if 500 people– [applause]


And now you all have an extra reason to come to the reception.

Remember, brick walls let us show our dedication. They are there to separate us from the people who don’t really want to achieve their childhood dreams.

Don’t bail. The best of the gold is at the bottom of barrels of crap.

What Steve didn’t tell you was the big sabbatical at EA. I had been there for 48 hours, and they loved the ETC. We were the best. We were the favorites, and then somebody else pulled me aside and said, “Oh, by the way, we’re about to give $8 million to USC to build a program just like yours. We’re hoping you can help them get it off the ground.”

And then Steve came along and said, “They said what? Oh, god.”

And to quote a famous man, “I will fix this.” And he did. Steve has been an incredible partner, and we have a great relationship, personal and professional, and he has certainly been point man on getting a gaming asset to help teach millions of kids, and, you know, that’s just incredible. But, you know, it certainly would have been reasonable for me to leave 48 hours into that sabbatical, but it wouldn’t have been the right thing to do, and when you do the right thing, good stuff has a way of happening.

Get a feedback loop and listen to it. Your feedback loop can be this dorky spreadsheet thing I did, or it can just be one great man who tells you what you need to hear. The hard part is the listening to it.

Anybody can get chewed out. It’s the rare person who says, “Oh, my god, you’re right,” as opposed to, “No wait, the real reason is”– we’ve all heard that.

When people give you feedback, cherish it and use it. 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?”

Don’t complain; just work harder. That’s a picture of Jackie Robinson. It was in his contract not to complain, even when the fans spit on him.

Be good at something; it makes you valuable. Work hard. I got tenure a year early as Steve mentioned. Junior faculty members used to say to me, “Wow, you got tenure early. What’s your secret?”

I said, “It’s pretty simple. Call me any Friday night in my office at 10:00 o’clock and I’ll tell you.”

Find the best in everybody. One of the things that Jon Snoddy, as I said, told me is that you might have to wait a long time, sometimes years, but people will show you their good side. Just keep waiting, no matter how long it takes. No one is all evil. Everybody has a good side. Just keep waiting. It will come out.

And be prepared. Luck is truly where preparation meets opportunity.

So today’s talk was about my childhood dreams, enabling the dreams of others, and some lessons learned.

But did you figure out the head fake?

It’s not about how to achieve your dreams. It’s about how to lead your life. If you lead your life the right way, the karma will take care of itself. The dreams will come to you.

Have you figured out the second head fake?

The talk’s not for you. It’s for my kids.

Thank you all. Good night.




For more inspiration, watch Carve Your Destiny, the super inspirational movie by Anubhav Srivastava for Free below. For motivational speaking queries email anubhav101@gmail.com