Carren's Pitch

Life by Design

I knew nothing about Randy Pausch until about a year ago. I was simply in Pittsburgh for a graduation, but those brief moments afforded me a glimpse of the spirit that continues to inspire people to believe in themselves and their dreams.

One of my favorite quotes from him--a quote buoys me in times of failure: "Brick walls are there for a reason. The brick walls are not there to keep us out; the brick walls are there to give us a chance to show how badly we want something."

Text by: Carren Jao
Published: Read Magazine, Powerbooks

RANDY Pausch was a beloved Carnegie Mellon University (CMU) Professor, known for his superb teaching skill, which was able to accomplish the near impossible- getting the students to listen and learn while having tons of fun. This book is an offspring of his Last Lecture given within CMU’s halls.

The Last Lecture series is a common type of lecture given in most college campuses, it asks prominent professors to consider their demise and share what matters most to them. It is often an imaginary exercise for the invited professors, but in Pausch’s case, it was not.

He had just been diagnosed with pancreatic cancer, the kind of cancer that gives one little hope of surviving its aggressiveness. His CT scans showed 10 tumors in his liver and, his life—the life he had thought to live out fully with is wife and 3 children--was drastically cut into 3 to 6 months of good health. Sadly, he passed away last July 25, 2008 at the age of 47, surpassing the average life span predictions for someone of his condition.

This book chronicles his journey as he deals with the consequences of his terminal illness but, more than that, the book is one of the many legacies that he leaves for his children as they grow up without the benefit of a father’s guiding hand. He is the father of three very young children, children that would not have clear memories of their father as they grow up and face the challenges that life would bring them. His Last Lecture and the consequent book was, in Pausch’s words, him “trying to put [himself] in a bottle that would someday wash up on the beach for [his] children.”

Within its pages, readers will come closer to this man called Randy Pausch in a thoroughly engaging and uplifting manner. With anecdotes and witty wordsmithing as his weapons of choice, The Last Lecture book shines with the wisdom of his irrepressible spirit. Only his wisecracking wisdom can convincingly justify why a Coca-Cola can poured over the upholstery of a brand new convertible is the formula for a relishing good time.

Through straightforward language and simple stories, he relays the life lessons he learned that have enabled him to achieve his childhood dreams with the hope that his children will feel his abiding love for them even after his lifetime. More importantly, those are the same lessons that he applied to his life (and generously shared with others) that make it as rich and enviable as it was despite the impending doom of cancer.

Readers can expect to feel twinges of sadness as Pausch opens up about his own sorrow and that of his wife’s, but self-pity is far from the prevailing tone of the book. This book is a delight to read and mental “aha’s” joyously ring in the readers heads as they turn from page to page.

Randy Pausch manages to infuse life and vitality in this no-fuss book. Using his own brand of straight-talking insight, he takes us through logical, no nonsense lessons of life that have served him well while navigating through life’s complexities, making it seem as simple as making lemonade on a hot summer day. Inside the pages of this book, you will meet a man generous in spirit, thoroughly practical yet wisely whimsical, instinctively knowing the real ingredients of a life well-lived.

Tiggers Placed on Chairs at Memorial Service, 9/22/08
Photos from AP Photo by Gene J. Puskar,

Photo credit for book cover: Herman Yung


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