Sunday, November 21, 2010

The Last Lecture

In many Universities in the USA, there is a tradition of top academics delivering what is called the 'Last Lecture' - a talk which is the result of deep thought as an answer to the question - If you were to give a final lecture what would it be - what wisdom would you like to impart to your students and what would you want to share, if you knew it was your last chance.

Randy Pausch was a Professor of Computer Science at the Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburg, Pennysylvania. He was born in 1960. When he was 46 years old he learnt that he had pancreatic cancer. In August 2007 he was told that he had about 6 months of good health left and in September 2007 he delivered his 'Last Lecture' on the topic 'Achieving your Childhood Dreams.' This was a phenomenal lecture delivered with great humor and enthusiasm. I saw it twice in the last one week. It is moving and tells so much about the man - his energy, enthusiasm, passion for Engineering - he calls himself an 'Efficiency freak' and love for his family. Randy Pausch died on July 25, 2008 and is survived by his wonderful wife Jai and three lovely children.

In his lecture, Randy talked about his childhood dreams, enabling others to achieve their dreams and finally about lessons learnt.

As I had watched the lecture twice in quick succession, some of it has stayed in my memory right and I want to try and see how much I can remember. It won't be long before my memory starts fading and I forget what he talked other than that the lecture was extraordinary.

Randy starts by talking about his cancer and then clarifying powerfully that he does not want any pity, goes on to list his childhood dreams - it ranges from experiencing zero gravity to winning stuffed dolls in amusement parks. He hilariously describes how he made his dream of experiencing 'zero gravity' come true.

Then he talks about his Football dreams and says that he accomplished more by not realising that goal than by realising other goals. Of course, football teaches teamwork, sportsmanship and perseverance. But that is only an 'head fake,' he says. Children start to learn football because they enjoy it but then they get out of it valuable lessons which they will carry with them long after they stop playing football. Those lessons for him were:
- You got to get your fundamentals right.....
- When you do something when you are young enough it becomes a part of you...
- When you are screwing up and nobody says anything to you any more, then that means they gave up on you... That's a very bad place to be.

He also talks about how he managed to dabble in Imagineering he talked his way to getting time off from his academic tenure....the people who served as brick walls as well as those who mentored him and so on. Brick walls are there for a reason, he says...they let us prove how badly we want things...and to keep others out.

He talks about several other things - the project he gave his students and how they excelled beyond his imagination and how then he told them to do even better; how to get people to bond; how he found somebody better than him to hand over his mantle. He talks about enabling children to learn computer programming by playing computer games. He recounts how his mentor instead of directly saying that he was a jerk, told him that people 'perceived' him as arrogant. He compares himself to Moses leading his clan to the promised land but not allowed to enter it. And he talks about having fun...I am dying and I am having fun, he says.

Finally he sums up his talk and asks : Have you figured out the head fake? He pauses and then says "It is not about how to achieve your dreams; it is about how to lead your life." Then he asks - Have you figured out the second head fake? "This talk wasn't for you guys. It was for my kids," he says. And that explains how he had put his heart and soul into this one final lecture.

What a Life.....

No comments: