Randy Pausch’s The Last Lecture, a slim book full of aphorisms and stories, was published in 2008 by Hyperion. In the work, Pausch describes the fulfillment of dreams he has had since childhood and the principles and lessons he has learned along the way into adulthood. The book was written primarily for Pausch’s three children—Dylan, Logan, and Chloe.
Pausch was a computer science professor at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh. At 47, he was diagnosed with terminal pancreatic cancer. His tale in The Last Lecture is based on an academic principle in which professors are asked to imagine that they are near death and required to summarize their knowledge and wisdom and pass it along to their students in one final lecture. Pausch took his life’s circumstances and formulated his tale for his children and students.
The book is a result of an actual lecture that took place in 2007 to a crowded lecture hall. Pausch addressed the audience and delivered a humorous, brave, and thought-provoking speech about achieving childhood dreams. Pausch’s lecture was referenced in an article by Jeff Zaslow of The New York Times. He said:
I live in Detroit, about 300 miles away, and I ended up driving to save the cost of a flight. It was like watching Babe Ruth hit his last home run, or Michael Jordan hitting his jump shot at the end of the NBA finals. It was electric in that room. I knew it affected everyone that was there. But I could not have foreseen what followed, even in my wildest dreams.
Zaslow wrote about the lecture in his next column and provided highlights from the video. The video went viral and received thousands of hits on YouTube. ABC’s Good Morning America hosted Pausch on the show, and he also was invited to speak on The Oprah Winfrey Show.
The appeal of Pausch’s video and book is partly due to his upfront, honest, humorous, and humble approach to the end of his life. His story is a real and welcome turn from the hype and celebrity of standard reality shows and entertainment magazines.
Randy Pausch died on July 25, 2008. His book and video became a best-selling sensation, inspiring people all over the world.
Randy Pausch’s The Last Lecture is a work of nonfiction that offers its readers advice on how to achieve their childhood dreams and how to live life. The book, which was written with Jeffrey Zaslow, is based on a lecture Randy Pausch gave. Pausch was a computer science professor at Carnegie Mellon University. After he was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer, a particularly deadly cancer, he was invited to give a “last lecture.” The last lecture is a tradition in which professors are invited to reflect on their lives and their career before giving a final lecture. Pausch’s lecture was entitled “Really Achieving Your Childhood Dreams.”
When The Last Lecture begins, Pausch explains that he has an “engineering problem.” Although he looks healthy on the outside, inside he has ten tumors in his liver. He has three children: Dylan, Logan, and Chloe. The oldest is five and the youngest is still an infant. Pausch also has a wife, Jai, pronounced “Jay.” Pausch has a lot to live for, but he has been diagnosed with terminal cancer and has perhaps three months to live. Engineering is about doing the best you can with limited resources, and Pausch explains this is what he is trying to do with The Last Lecture.
In retrospect, Pausch explains, the lecture was a great success, but it was not an easy project for him to start. With only a few months left to live, Pausch and Jai moved to Virginia so Jai’s family would be nearby to offer support. Now every day is busy with unpacking and preparing for the inevitable. Jai explains that she is opposed to the project because it will take time from Pausch that he will not be able to spend with his family. Also, the date of the lecture has been set for Jai’s birthday, so on her last birthday with her husband, Pausch will be in Pittsburgh preparing for his lecture rather than spending time with his wife. Although Pausch understands his wife’s concerns, he explains that he felt very drawn to the idea of a last lecture. Perhaps the most important thing for him is that his young children will struggle to remember their father as they get older. However, the last lecture, which will be recorded in front of an audience, will be recorded for posterity. Furthermore, he feels that the advice he offers, validated by an audience, will be more powerful for his children as they grow up. Finally, Pausch points out that “an injured lion still wants to roar.”...
(The entire section is 1618 words.)
Chapter 1 Summary
An Injured Lion Still Wants to Roar
“Last lectures” are common events on many college campuses. A professor is asked to consider the end of his life and think about what is most important to him. The ideal result is a lecture that causes the audience to ponder the question of their own mortality and legacy. Carnegie Mellon University has done these lectures for years; the series is named Journeys. After Randy Pausch is diagnosed with pancreatic cancer, he is asked to give his Journey lecture in September.
In mid-August, Pausch gets the news that he has only months to live, and he considers canceling his lecture. He and his wife, Jai, think he should be spending all his final days with his family. They have just moved from Philadelphia to West Virginia so Jai and the kids will be close to family when he is gone, and Pausch has committed himself to doing whatever he can to make life easier for those he will leave. But he is consumed with the idea of leaving something substantive behind for his children.
He will have to travel on Jai’s forty-first birthday, and Jai knows her husband will be consumed with this project. Pausch does not want to be gone for the last birthday he will share with Jai, but he really believes he must give this lecture. They meet with their psychotherapist and they listen to one another’s views. Pausch examines his motives and admits he wants both to remind the world and himself that he is still alive and to bask in the spotlight one last time. He tells Jai, “An injured lion wants to know if he can still roar.”
Pausch has been yearning for a way to leave a legacy for his children, ages five, two, and one. He will videotape the lecture, so ten years (or more) from now, Jai can show it to them. The audience’s reactions, he hopes, will add credibility to what he says. Jai relents. Pausch is determined to make this speech not about how he is dealing with dying but about living.
He asks himself what makes him unique. He is one of 37,000 Americans who are diagnosed with pancreatic cancer every year, so his cancer does not make him special in any way. He is a son, a brother, a husband, a father, a friend, a computer scientist, and a teacher. In a hospital waiting room, he realizes what sets him apart from others is that he has fulfilled nearly all of his childhood dreams and goals. He has been taught by many extraordinary teachers and mentors,...
(The entire section is 465 words.)
Chapter 2 Summary
My Life in a Laptop
Pausch is a scientist, so he is unused to thinking about how to connect people to their dreams. He spends four days gathering more than three hundred photos and many other images as well as a few sayings and words of advice; these he will project on a screen. They will help serve as reminders for him as he speaks; he is a visual thinker and he will not use a script. Every ninety minutes he stops and interacts with his children, but Jai still thinks he is spending too much time on the speech and not enough time helping her unpack boxes in their new home.
At first, Jai has no intention of attending her husband’s lecture because she has a house to get settled and myriad other important things to do. Pausch keeps telling her he needs her to be there, and she finally relents. She will fly to Pittsburgh on the day of his lecture.
He leaves for Carnegie Mellon the day before his lecture, on Jai’s birthday. They celebrated with family the night before, but it is still a grim reminder to his wife that she will never spend another birthday with him. His close friend Steve Seabolt meets him at the airport. Seabolt flew in from San Francisco for the lecture to support his friend. Seabolt is an executive at a company that makes video games. Pausch worked there during a sabbatical, and in that year the two men became as close as brothers.
Pausch has pared his presentation to 280 slides, but it is still too long. That night in his hotel room he is feeling the after-effects of a chemotherapy treatment a few days earlier, and he is still working to perfect his presentation. He works until midnight and wakes up with a start at 5:00 a.m. and doubts his plan for this lecture is going to work. He questions how an entire life can be summarized effectively in an hour. He works until 11:00 and thinks he has a narrative that might be effective.
He and Steve pick Jai up from the airport, and during a solemn conversation at lunch, Steve pledges to help Jai and the kids however he can. At 1:30 the computer lab on campus, a place where Pausch spent much of his life, is dedicated in his honor. At 2:15 he is in his office and feeling sick again, wondering if he will even have the strength to give the lecture. He rests with his laptop on his stomach and cuts another sixty slides.
People begin lining up for his lecture at 3:30. Pausch leaves his office at 4:00 and...
(The entire section is 448 words.)
Chapter 3 Summary
The Elephant in the Room
Jai is already seated when he arrives, along with about four hundred other people—a large crowd even for the popular lecture series. Pausch is on stage, arranging his props and preparing to speak, but he makes eye contact with no one. Jai can tell he is nervous and probably does not want to make any eye contact that might make him too emotional. Pausch assumes some of the audience is there to see what a dying man has to say, and he is still deleting and rearranging slides when it is time for him to begin.
Pausch is dressed casually in what he decided was the most appropriate childhood-dream clothing he could imagine: a polo shirt with the emblem that all Walt Disney Imagineers wear. Imagineers are the artists, writers, and engineers who “create theme-park fantasies.” Pausch spent a six-month sabbatical as an Imagineer—the pinnacle of his childhood dreams. He also wears his oval “Randy” name badge, paying tribute to the man who famously said, “If you can dream it, you can do it.”
Pausch begins his presentation with a few jokes and then addresses the “elephant in the room.” He has cancer and his prognosis is for three to six months of good health—news he received a month ago. He displays the image of his CT scan with red arrows pointing at his ten tumors. Everyone counts with him, and Pausch tells them this is just a fact of his life that cannot be changed. His challenge now is how to live his best life in these circumstances.
His adrenaline is pumping and Pausch feels strong; he does not look sick, either, so he assures his audience that he is not in denial or unaware of his situation. As he shows a photo of their new home, Pausch explains that he and his wife just uprooted their family—leaving home, friends, and school—so they would be surrounded by family who will help them and love them when he is gone.
The worst chemotherapy and radiation are over, and he is now only being treated with palliative chemo. He is in exceptionally good health; it is ironic that he is actually in better physical condition than nearly everyone in the room. Earlier in the day, Pausch had wondered if he would be able to do what he had planned—but he feels good and moves to the center of the stage. To the audience’s delight, Pausch drops to the floor and begins doing push-ups. Now that the audience knows he is not “just some dying man,”...
(The entire section is 452 words.)
Chapter 4 Summary
The Parent Lottery
Pausch believes he won the “parent lottery.” Because of his parents, he was able to live out his childhood dreams. His mother was an “old-school” English teacher who accepted no nonsense and no excuses; she had high expectations for her students, and she had the same for her son. His father was a medic in World War II. He founded a nonprofit organization to help immigrant children learn English, and he sold insurance for a living. His father’s clients were disadvantaged in many ways, and he worked hard to get them insured. Pausch’s dad was his hero.
The family lived in Columbia, Maryland. Pausch’s parents were frugal in the best way, which forced Randy and his older sister, Tammy, to be creative and stretch their imaginations. If the children had questions, they were encouraged to find the answers. They regularly used dictionaries and encyclopedias at the dinner table. Randy’s father was an amazing storyteller and was a master at telling tales with morals. As Tammy watches her brother’s lecture online, she feels as if she is listening to her father—something Randy feels as he speaks, as well. Pausch dispenses his father’s wisdom every day, and he lives by his father’s tenets. Any time he gives advice, even if his father never said it, Pausch gives him credit because he seemed to know everything.
Pausch’s mother kept her son from being too arrogant. Every time he complained that something was difficult, she would pat him on the arm and tell him she felt bad for him—and to remember that when his father was his age he was fighting the Germans. After he got his PhD, she would introduce him as a doctor—“but not the kind who helped people.” Both parents were quite charitable both in America and beyond; they underwrote a fifty-bed dormitory in Thailand that helped girls stay in school and avoid lives of prostitution. His father was an optimist and a great champion of social inequality as well. Dying of leukemia, he made arrangements to donate his body to science and continue to fund the dormitory in Thailand for another six years.
One of the photographs Pausch shows is of himself on the bunk bed his father made. He is in his pajamas and he is obviously a boy who loves to “dream big dreams.” Pausch knows that though his children will have a mother who will love and guide them through the pitfalls of life, they will not have their...
(The entire section is 503 words.)
Chapter 5 Summary
The Elevator in the Ranch House
While in high school, Pausch asks his parents for permission to “splash” some of the many ideas swirling through his head onto his bedroom walls. He tells them he wants to paint things that are important to him, things he thinks are “cool”; that is enough to garner their permission. His parents support creativity and passion, and this is not an easy “yes” for his father. His mother is less enthusiastic but also agrees.
For two days, Pausch, his sister, and one of his friends paint an assortment of things on his bedroom walls and ceiling. He wants to celebrate the fact that in a quadratic equation, the highest power of an unknown quantity is always a square, so he paints a quadratic equation near the door. On one wall they draw an elevator; though the house is a one-story ranch, the panel indicates that this room is on the third of six floors. (Because this was imaginary and he was a dreamer, he could have picked a much higher number; he probably did not do so because he had to balance his aspirations with pragmatism.)
Pausch is not particularly artistic, so he paints a simple rocket ship with fins and the mirror from Snow White with this line: “Remember when I told you that you were the fairest? I lied!” On the ceiling he and his friend write a desperate plea for help—backwards, as if someone trapped in the attic were scratching out a message. Tammy has some artistic talent, and she paints chess pieces because he loves the game. Pausch paints a submarine prowling for enemy ships behind his bed; the periscope rises above the bed, searching the room.
The story of Pandora’s Box has always intrigued him, so he and Tammy paint their version of the story. In Greek mythology, Pandora is given a box with all the evil of the world in it; she disobeys the order not to open it, and all the evils are loosed. Pausch is most intrigued with the optimistic ending of the story, that the only thing left at the bottom of the box is “hope.” Above the word “hope” his friend writes the word “bob,” which generally gets a reaction from anyone who enters.
It is the late 1970s, and he writes “Disco sucks!” over his door. When he is gone one day, his mother paints over the second word because she thinks it is vulgar. She never edited anything else in the room. Pausch’s friends are all impressed that his parents let him do such a...
(The entire section is 488 words.)
Chapter 6 Summary
Getting to Zero G
Pausch believes having specific dreams is very important. While many of his classmates in elementary school wanted to become astronauts, Pausch knew he would never be an astronaut because he wore glasses. What he really wanted was the experience of floating.
NASA has a plane it uses to help astronauts acclimate to zero gravity. It is officially called The Weightless Wonder, though unofficially it is known as The Vomit Comet. Riding in the plane is like riding a runaway roller coaster, but it does give its passengers a feeling of weightlessness.
In 2001, Pausch’s dream became a potential reality when a group of Carnegie Mellon students submitted the winning proposal to conduct an experiment on the plane using virtual reality. The question the group wanted to answer was whether virtual reality dry runs on the ground would help eliminate or diminish the nausea caused by zero gravity in space, and they were invited to the space center in Houston to ride the plane and conduct their experiment. Unfortunately, the regulations strictly forbade faculty advisors from flying with their students. Pausch, however, was not deterred.
He did his research and discovered a way to fly: as a journalist from the students’ hometown. Immediately he resigned as his team’s faculty advisor and submitted an application to join them as a reporter. It was not a subtle move, but it was perfectly legal; he also made certain the program as well as their specific experiment were well publicized on the Internet and in mainstream media outlets.
The lesson is that people should always have something to offer because it will make them more welcome. Pausch had an amazing experience on the plane. He did not throw up, though he did get rather bruised and battered. The plane does parabolic arcs, and it is at the top of each arc that passengers experience twenty-five seconds of weightlessness. At the end of each of those twenty-five seconds, when gravity returns to the plane, it feels as if the body were twice its normal weight. This means passengers can slam down pretty hard at times—which is why they are always warned to keep their feet down.
Roughly four decades after floating became his dream, Pausch managed to get himself onto that plane. One of his life goals was accomplished. If a person can manage to find an opportunity and an opening, he can probably also find a way...
(The entire section is 412 words.)
Chapter 7 Summary
I Never Made It to the NFL
Pausch began playing football when he was nine years old and has loved the game ever since. In fact, football helped mold him into the person he is today. Although he did not reach his goal of playing in the National Football League, perhaps he learned more from not accomplishing this goal than he learned from many of the goals he did accomplish.
His father drags him to his first practice, and Pausch does not want to be there. He is a scrawny boy and one of the smallest on the team. The coach is Jim Graham, a former Penn State linebacker. He has old-fashioned ideas about football: he considers a forward pass to be a trick play. All the boys are frightened of this giant man, and they wonder why he has no footballs at football practice. When asked about it, he tells the boys they do not need them because only one out of twenty-two players on the field ever has the football. They are going to concentrate on what the other twenty-one players are doing: fundamentals.
Getting the fundamentals right is the foundation for success in any area of life. Coach Graham is hard on Pausch, and often he has to repeat the drills or stay after practice to do push-ups. One of the assistants explains that this kind of attention is a good thing. If someone keeps “screwing up” and no one says anything, it means others have given up on him. This is a lesson Pausch remembers and has benefitted from in every area of his life. People do not want to hear criticism but the critics are often the people who care and want to help them improve.
Contrary to popular belief, self-esteem is not something that can be given; it must be taught and developed by setting goals and working hard to achieve them—and then repeating the process. Coach Graham helped Pausch, a rather wimpy kid with no skills, realize there are things in life that he cannot do today but will be able to do tomorrow if he continues working diligently. A coach like Graham would probably not be a popular coach today; parents and boys would both complain.
Pausch is discouraged that today’s kids are so coddled. It has been more than twenty years since Pausch has seen Coach Graham, but the lessons he taught Pausch force him to work harder when he feels like quitting—force him to be better. Kids are not generally in organized sports to learn the intricacies of the game; they are there to practice teamwork,...
(The entire section is 461 words.)
Chapter 8 Summary
You’ll Find Me Under “V”
Though he now lives in the computer age and loves the world of pixels and the information superhighway, Pausch was raised in a very different world. In 1960 when he was born, all the great knowledge was recorded on paper. In his family, the World Book Encyclopedia was the place to find nearly anything worth knowing. He does not claim to have read the entire set of encyclopedias, but he read a lot and was fascinated by who was selected and how they were chosen to write about such a diverse collection of subjects.
His parents were frugal, but they happily purchased the World Book (which was not cheap) to give the gift of knowledge to their children. Each year the annual book arrived—a volume of current events, breakthroughs, and changes from that year. Each annual supplement came with stickers that needed to be placed on the original entries, and that was Pausch’s job. It was his responsibility to keep the knowledge current for anyone who used those encyclopedias in the future.
It became a life goal for Pausch to become a contributing editor to World Book. This is more difficult than just contacting the World Book home office in Chicago and offering to write an article. World Book had to find him, and several years ago he got the call. He was not the most authoritative expert in the field of virtual reality, but he was competent enough to know the subject well, and he was likely to have the time to write for them.
He wanted to tell them he had been waiting almost his entire life for this call, but he settled on a simple “yes!” He wrote the article and submitted a photo of one of his students, Caitlin Kelleher, wearing a virtual reality headset. No one ever edited his article; he assumes that is how World Book works: pick a trusted expert and trust that what he writes will be accurate and that he will not abuse the privilege.
Pausch does not own the latest set of World Book encyclopedias. In truth, now that he has seen how little quality control there is for a real encyclopedia, he believes Wikipedia is a perfectly acceptable source of information. However, when he is in a library with his kids, he occasionally feels compelled to look under “V” (for “Virtual Reality”) to find his article and let them see what their dad wrote. He finally “made it.”
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Chapter 9 Summary
A Skill Set Called Leadership
Like a lot of other nerdy kids his age, Pausch dreamed of being Captain James T. Kirk, commander of the starship Enterprise. He did not want to be like him: he wanted to be Captain Kirk. The Star Trek hero was the greatest role model for young boys who loved science; and Pausch believes he became a better husband, teacher, and colleague by watching the captain run his ship.
Kirk was not the smartest person on the ship; Mr. Spock, his first officer, was the logical, intelligent one. Dr. McCoy had all the medical knowledge of the universe, and Scotty was able to keep the ship running even in the midst of an alien attack. They needed their captain for one thing: his leadership. Pausch learned from watching Kirk in action.
Kirk knew how to delegate and how to inspire passion in his crew, and he never professed to know more than his subordinates, allowing them to do what they knew best how to do. It was his job to inspire vision and set the tone for every mission and task. On a lighter note, he always looked good and was attractive to women in every galaxy. To a young boy, he was a Greek god.
The coolest thing was all the technology he had. Kirk had a communicator that allowed him to talk to his ship when he was on a planet—now we all have such devices. Several years ago, Pausch received a phone call from an author who was cowriting a book with William Shatner (Captain Kirk). He wanted to talk to Pausch about how the scientific breakthroughs on the television series foreshadowed today’s technological advances. Captain Kirk wanted to visit Pausch’s virtual reality lab at Carnegie Mellon.
Although this was not quite the dream he had as a boy, Pausch considered his dream realized when he met Shatner. Even more amazing than meeting his boyhood idol was considering that his idol was here to see his work! Before he came, Pausch and his students worked feverishly to create a virtual bridge of the Enterprise. When Shatner arrived, he put on the bulky headset and was able to see his starship—complete with sirens. Shatner spent three hours in the lab and asked a lot of questions. Shatner, like Kirk, was not afraid to admit what he did not know, and he did not want to leave until he understood. To Pausch, that is heroic.
During his cancer treatments, Pausch is reminded of a scene in one of the Star Trek...
(The entire section is 500 words.)
Chapter 10 Summary
Another childhood goal Pausch had was to be the coolest guy at any amusement park or carnival he visited. The coolest guy was easy to spot—he was the one walking around with the largest stuffed animal. It never mattered to him if the guy behind the huge stuffed toy was a muscle man or a nerd; if he had the largest animal, he was the coolest guy in the place.
Pausch’s dad agreed, and the family competitiveness showed itself in the midway games. He and his father would routinely do battle for the “largest beast in Stuffed Animal Kingdom.” Pausch loved the feeling of being the object of envy as he walked through the venue, and he used a giant stuffed animal to woo his wife.
When Pausch and his sister were young, their father promised them any toy in the store if they could agree to share it. After much looking, they spied a huge stuffed rabbit perched on the top shelf. It was undoubtedly one of the most expensive toys in the store, but their father was a man of his word, and he bought them the oversized rabbit.
Over time, Pausch would come home with more and bigger stuffed animals. His father suspected he was purchasing them from winners who did not value their huge animals or recognize the amount of “cool” they would be missing if they sold their prizes. But Pausch never paid for a stuffed animal.
He is not a cheater. He does lean in the ring toss, but that is the only way to win. It was much easier to perform and win without the pressure of his family watching him, so they rarely saw him actually win anything. He also did not want them to see how long it took him to be successful. Tenacity is a virtue but it is not always necessary for everyone to see how hard one works at something. Two keys to success in winning giant stuffed animals are long arms and plenty of money to spare.
In his lecture, Pausch shows pictures of some of his oversized animals, and he is sure some members of his audience are convinced he somehow doctored the photos. To silence the skeptics, he has several of his students bring some of his stuffed animals onto the stage to prove his claim. While his wife loves the idea of them, he knows she would rather they be gone from their house. He does not need to impress anyone anymore, so he offers these to anyone who wants to claim them at the end of his lecture. The animals find their new homes quickly. He finds out later...
(The entire section is 475 words.)
Chapter 11 Summary
The Happiest Place on Earth
Pausch and his family went to Disneyland when he was eight years old, and he was in awe. This was the coolest environment he ever experienced. Even as he stood in line for the rides, he thought to himself that he could not wait to make “this kind of stuff.”
Twenty years later, after he got his PhD in computer science from Carnegie Mellon, he felt perfectly qualified to do anything, so he sent a confident letter of application to Walt Disney Imagineering. In return, he got some of the nicest rejection letters he ever received. The company did not have any jobs that fit his particular qualifications. He found depressing because Walt Disney hires hundreds of people just to sweep its famous streets—but had nothing he was able to do.
In 1995, Pausch was a professor at the University of Virginia and helped build a system entitled “Virtual Reality on Five Dollars a Day.” He and his colleagues proved the so-called experts wrong when they all claimed that nothing could be done in the field for less than half a million dollars. Soon after, Pausch heard that Disney Imagineering was working on a top-secret virtual reality project for an Aladdin carpet ride. He called Disney and was passed from person to person until he ended up talking with Jon Snoddy, the Imagineer in charge of the project. After they talked for a bit, Pausch told him he was coming to California and asked to meet with him; Snoddy agreed.
Before going, Pausch did eighty hours of homework, asking every virtual reality expert he knew about the Disney project. When Pausch and Snoddy finally met, the Imagineer was impressed with Pausch’s preparation. The professor explained that he would like to use his upcoming six-month sabbatical to come work as a Disney Imagineer. Snoddy loved the idea and agreed to let Pausch write a paper on his experiences. Now Pausch has to convince his superiors to let him take such an odd sabbatical.
One dean became his nemesis, fearing the intellectual property (Pausch’s ideas) that rightfully belonged to the University of Virginia would be given to Disney for free. He was not sure if this was a good idea, and he refused to allow the appointment. Pausch took his case to the dean of sponsored research, who was willing to admit he did not know if such a venture was a good idea; however, he was thrilled with Pausch’s enthusiasm and wanted to hear more....
(The entire section is 497 words.)
Chapter 12 Summary
The Park Is Open Until 8 p.m.
In the summer of 2006, Pausch feels pain in his abdomen; when jaundice sets in, his doctors hope it is hepatitis. Unfortunately it is pancreatic cancer. Half of the people diagnosed with it die within six months and 96 percent die within five years. Pausch approaches his treatment like a scientist, asking many questions and making his own hypotheses. The doctors enjoy having such an engaged patient.
Pausch is willing to do or take whatever his doctors have for him because he has one goal: staying alive as long as possible. He undergoes a specialized surgery in which his gall bladder, a third of his pancreas, a third of his stomach, and several feet of his small intestine are removed, followed by powerful chemotherapy and radiation. He goes from 182 to 138 pounds and can barely walk. In the end, though, the cancer is gone and Pausch slowly regains his strength.
When he and Jai go for his quarterly check-up, they wait in the examination room. The computer is on and open to Pausch’s chart, so he looks at it—feeling no guilt because they are his records. The news is devastating: the cancer has metastasized to his liver. His blood work indicates tumors, and he counts ten of them on his CT scan. Jai falls into his arms and they weep.
When the doctor enters, he can see that they already know. Jai is still upset, but Pausch is fascinated as he watches his doctor manage the grim prognosis. Now the medical course is set on extending Pausch’s time and quality of life. Jai is unwilling to accept that, but there is nothing except possibly a palliative chemotherapy that might cause the symptoms to abate and extend his life by several months.
As Jai continues crying, Pausch is more detached and is mesmerized by the theatricality of the moment. The doctor has obviously done this many times, yet it feels real and spontaneous. As the doctor comforts Jai, Pausch wishes every oncology resident could be here. Even his language is comforting. When Pausch asks how long he has before he dies, the doctor tells him he will have three to six months of good health.
That reminds Pausch of something at Disney. When a guest asks what time the park closes, Disney workers are supposed to answer “the park is open until 8 p.m.” In one way, the diagnosis is a relief. The waiting is over and now they can move on and deal with it....
(The entire section is 501 words.)
Chapter 13 Summary
The Man in the Convertible
One morning after the fatal diagnosis, Pausch receives an e-mail from Carnegie Mellon’s vice president for advancement, Robbee Kosak, in which she tells him a story.
The night before, she was driving home from work behind a man in a convertible. He had the top down and the windows lowered because it was a beautiful, warm, spring evening. The man’s arm was hanging out the window and he was tapping on the door in time to music on his radio. The wind was blowing through his hair as he bobbed his head to the beat.
Kosak pulled up next to the man and could see a slight smile on his face, as if he were content with his world and his own thoughts. It seemed to her that this was a perfect example of a man appreciating his life and his surroundings on this day and at this moment. When the convertible eventually turned a corner, she realized the man was someone she knew—Randy Pausch.
Her e-mail says she was struck by the sight. She knew about his grim cancer diagnosis and tried to reconcile that with the contentment she saw on his face. She was moved by the fact that, in this private moment, he was obviously in good spirits and content with his world. She tells him he will never know how much she was moved by that little glimpse of his life. It reminded her what life is supposed to be.
Pausch reads the message from Kosak several times, in a kind of feedback loop. It has not been easy to stay so positive through difficult times and harsh cancer treatments. In the midst of a medical crisis, it is often difficult to accurately gauge one’s emotional health; and Pausch often wonders if part of him is acting when he is around people—forcing himself to maintain a strong, positive demeanor. This is something many cancer patients often do, and he asks himself if he has been doing that.
His colleague observed him in an unguarded moment and presumably saw him as he really is, or at least how he was that evening. That simple e-mail, only a paragraph long, has great meaning for Pausch. His colleague offered him a kind of window into himself, and he likes what he sees. He is still fully engaged in life and he is still aware that life is good. He is living how he wants to live.
(The entire section is 417 words.)
Chapter 14 Summary
The Dutch Uncle
Pausch has always had a healthy sense of himself and what he is capable of doing; he says what he thinks and believes and has little patience for incompetence. For most of his life, these characteristics have been his strengths; however, at times others have seen him as tactless and arrogant. At these times, he has needed people who can help him get refocused.
His sister, Tammy, has always had to put up with a kid brother who thinks he knows everything. One morning when he was seven and Tammy was nine, they were waiting for the school bus. As usual, he was “mouthing off” to his sister. She took his lunch box and dropped it in a mud puddle just as the bus pulled up. She was sent to the principal’s office and everyone rushed to make his life better. The principal called their mother and said he would let her deal with this at home. Tammy worried all day and was not comforted when she found out her father was going to handle this when he got home. When her father heard the story, though, he simply began to laugh. He understood Pausch needed to have his lunchbox dropped in a mud puddle—though the lesson did not completely cure him of his tendencies.
At Brown University, everyone around him soon realized he is tactless and offends people almost as soon as he meets them. Pausch rarely paid attention to these traits because they did not seem to have any impact on his life, especially academically. He was chosen as a teaching assistant for Andy van Dam; it was a prestigious position, and he was probably chosen because he is impassioned about lots of things. Like many people, though, some of his strengths are also his flaws; van Dam says Pausch is “self-possessed to a fault,” much too brash, and an “inflexible contrarian” who is always sharing his opinions.
One day van Dam took Pausch for a walk, put his arm around his shoulders, and said it is a shame that people too often perceive him as being arrogant because it will limit what he will be able to accomplish with his life. It was the perfect way to say such an important thing, and it allowed Pausch to listen to one of his heroes telling him something he needed to hear.
A “Dutch uncle” is a person who gives honest feedback, a rather old-fashioned idea in a world that does not really want to hear hard truths. Pausch considers himself lucky to have benefitted over the years from people like van...
(The entire section is 453 words.)
Chapter 15 Summary
Pouring Soda in the Backseat
For most of his life, Pausch had no children of his own, so in his family he was the “bachelor uncle.” He reveled in being an uncle to Tammy’s two children, Chris and Laura. Every month or so he would pop into their lives and offer his unique perspective on the world. He never spoiled them, but he always tried to get them to see the world from “strange new angles.”
When Chris was seven and Laura was nine, “Uncle Randy” picked them up in his brand new Volkswagen convertible. Tammy warned her children not to make a mess or get anything dirty in their uncle’s new car. As Pausch listened to her admonitions, he thought these warnings were actually setting the kids up to fail; they would inevitably get the car dirty. That is what kids do. So Pausch decided to make things easier on all of them.
As Tammy recounted the many things she did not want them to do in or to his car, Pausch opened a can of soda and deliberately poured it on the cloth seats in the back of his car. He wanted to demonstrate that people are much more important than things are. The children watched agape as their crazy uncle rejected the rules to which most adults cling. That demonstration was a blessing, for Chris got the flu later in the weekend and vomited all over that backseat—and he knew it would be okay.
When Pausch had the kids, he only had two rules: no whining and never tell their mother what they do together. Even the mundane became magical, and everything they did was an adventure. One thing they enjoyed doing together was making pancakes because they always made them into odd animal shapes. Most of the time the final result was different than what they intended, so then they tried to see new animal figures in their pancakes.
Chris and Laura are nineteen and twenty-one now, and they are “terrific young adults.” Pausch is especially grateful for the time he spent with them over the years because it is clear he will never be a father to anyone over the age of six. He has asked both of them to spend some time with his children, just doing anything fun; they do not have to recreate any of the things they did with him, just whatever the kids might find interesting.
He also has asked his niece and nephew to explain a few things to their cousins. First, he wants them to convey that their father wanted them to spend time together, just like he...
(The entire section is 503 words.)
Chapter 16 Summary
Romancing the Brick Wall
The most formidable brick wall Pausch ever had to conquer was small in stature, but it reduced him to tears and forced him to re-evaluate his life. Jai was this brick wall.
Charging through brick walls had always been fairly easy for Pausch, at least in his professional and academic life. He believed
brick walls are there to stop the people who do not want it badly enough. They’re there to stop the other people.
Pausch was thirty-seven years old when he met Jai after having fun dating many girls and feeling no desire to settle down. Even as a tenured professor, he lived in an attic apartment with folding chairs in his dining room, figuring the kind of woman he would want would not care. He was not “perfect marriage material.” He met Jai at the University of North Carolina; he was a guest lecturer and she was a grad student (in comparative literature) whose job it was to host him.
Jai had heard him speak a year before and had considered introducing herself; when she knew she would be hosting him, she did her research and discovered he was a “pretty offbeat and interesting guy.” Jai had gotten married early but was now single, and Pausch could not take his eyes off her. She was beautiful, warm, and impish. He asked her to have drinks with him after his dinner function, and she agreed.
They had such a good time that Pausch postponed his flight home so they could see one another the next day. After he returned home, he offered to fly her to Pittsburgh, but she was scared—both of his reputation and of the possibility she might be falling in love with him. She wrote to tell him she was not willing to conduct a long-distance relationship. Of course, Pausch “was hooked” and assumed this was just another brick wall he could manage. He sent her flowers and a note to say he understood, was sad, and respected her decision. Jai got on the next plane to Pittsburgh.
They spent nearly every weekend together that winter. Despite his bluntness and arrogance, Jai was drawn to his positive attitude, and she was influencing him to care about someone more than himself. He was in love with her while she was still finding her way, and he finally asks her to move to Pittsburgh. She agreed to get an apartment there but changed her mind at the last moment, saying she did not love him the way he wanted her to love him....
(The entire section is 497 words.)
Chapter 17 Summary
Not All Fairy Tales End Smoothly
Mr. and Mrs. Pausch get married in a quiet wedding followed by a spectacular send-off in a gigantic, multicolored, hot-air balloon. As she steps into the balloon, Jai says it feels like a fairy tale ending to a Disney movie. The flight over Pittsburgh is beautiful, but they left later than they planned and soon the ballooner (captain of the ship) is worried because he cannot find a place for them to land.
The newlyweds are no longer looking at the view; now they are desperately looking for a large open space hidden somewhere in the urban setting below them. They are at the mercy of the wind, but at last they float over the suburbs and find a large field in the distance. The ballooner commits to landing there and begins to descend quickly.
Pausch watches the land below and sees a train track at the edge of the field—and he sees a train coming their direction. He transitions from groom to engineer and asks the ballooner what would happen if the balloon were to hit the train. The man suggests several scenarios, and in all of them there is a high probability for “great bodily harm.” The ballooner gives the couple his best advice: as soon as the balloon hits the ground, run as fast as they can.
These are not words a bride dreams of hearing on her wedding day. Jai no longer feels like a Disney princess, but her husband is imagining himself as the hero of a disaster movie who must rescue his lovely new bride. Pausch often relies on other people’s expertise, but when he looks at the ballooner’s face he sees fear and the beginning of panic. He looks at Jai and thinks their marriage has been good so far.
Pausch begins calculating how best to escape the balloon once they land; he will take Jai and run. The ballooner is desperately trying to drop the balloon as quickly as possible, for landing anywhere else right now is a better option than hitting a speeding train.
They make a hard crash landing in the field, and the basket hops and bounces several times before landing at an almost horizontal tilt. The balloon silk drapes to the ground and fortunately misses the train. People on the highway stop to help. It must have been an odd sight for them—Jai in her wedding dress, Pausch in his wedding suit, and a very relieved ballooner. Everyone is pretty shaken. When Pausch’s friend Jack arrives in the chase car, he is happy to see...
(The entire section is 499 words.)
Chapter 18 Summary
Lucy, I’m Home
Early in their marriage, Pausch walks to the university on a day that eventually becomes famous in their household as “The Day Jai Managed to Achieve the One-Driver, Two-Car Collision.” Their minivan is in the garage and the Volkswagen convertible is in the driveway. Jai drives out of the garage—and hits her husband’s car. What follows is just like an episode of I Love Lucy as Jai worries all day about how to explain the accident to her husband when he gets home.
To soften the blow, Jai creates what she believes to be the perfect environment in which to deliver her bad news. Both cars are hidden in the garage when Pausch arrives, and Jai sweetly asks all about his day. She has prepared his favorite meal and is solicitous to him in every way before she finally broaches the subject. After she tells him the news, Pausch simply asks how it happened and what kind of damage was done. Jai explains that the convertible incurred the most damage but both vehicles are running.
When she asks if he wants to see the cars, Pausch unconcernedly tells her it can wait until after they finish their dinner. Jai is surprised at his lack of reaction; she does not yet know that this response shows part of his upbringing. After dinner they look at the cars. When her husband just shrugs, Jai feels an entire day’s anxiety fade away. She promises to get estimates for the repairs in the morning, but he tells her it is not necessary.
Pausch’s family taught him that a vehicle is useful to get from one place to another—a device of utility rather than a symbol of social status. Cosmetic damage does not affect either automobile’s ability to do what it is supposed to do. Jai is shocked at the idea of driving around in dented cars, but Pausch tells her she cannot have just some of him. She appreciates that he did not get upset that two of their possessions got broken; this is connected to his belief that if things still do what they are supposed to do, they do not need to be repaired. The cars still work, so they will still drive them.
Pausch knows this makes him sound quirky, but he notes that if a wheelbarrow or a trashcan were dented, no one would get them repaired. That is because people do not look at these items as symbols of status or indicators of identity. The couples’ dented vehicles make a statement for their family that not everything needs to be...
(The entire section is 442 words.)
Chapter 19 Summary
A New Year’s Story
On New Year’s Eve 2001, Jai is seven months pregnant and planning a quiet night at home watching a movie with her husband. Suddenly she begins bleeding. Pausch drives her to the hospital just a few minutes away. The doctors in the emergency room soon discover the placenta has torn away from the uterine wall and the baby’s life, along with Jai’s, is at risk.
Her pregnancy has been rough for weeks because her placenta was not functioning efficiently and the baby was not thriving. She was given steroids to stimulate the baby’s lung development, but now her condition is much more serious. Jai is close to clinical shock, and Pausch is worried that the doctors might not be up to the task of saving both his wife and child. The medical team is impressive, though, and they rush Jai into surgery to perform an emergency C-section.
The doctors are reassuring, and the anesthesiologist charges Pausch with the task of keeping his wife calm so they will not have to treat her for shock. Most husbands can offer little more to their wives than moral support; however, Pausch has been given a real job and how well he does it matters to his wife and child. He decides the most calming thing he can do is tell her the truth, so he watches the surgery and tells her what he sees. When he sees the baby, Jai is afraid to ask the most important question, but he quickly assures her the baby is moving.
Suddenly the Pausches’ first-born son, Dylan, is screaming, which is a good sign according to the medical staff. Although he only weighs two pounds fifteen ounces, he is breathing well on his own. Jai begins to relax with relief, and Pausch is amazed by her courage. The staff is reassuring and Dylan never needs a respirator, but his parents still feel a daily fear that their baby’s condition can suddenly digress. Each day as they drive to the hospital, they wonder if Dylan will still be alive.
One day when they arrive his bassinet is gone, and both parents experience panic and terror. When they manage to ask about Dylan, a nurse tells them he is doing so well that he has been moved to another ward. They race to see him, and they find him screaming with life.
Pausch is reminded that when things are bad, people have the power to make them worse. If either of them had “fallen to pieces,” their son might not have survived. They just kept going, and there were...
(The entire section is 472 words.)
Chapter 20 Summary
“In Fifty Years, It Never Came Up”
After Pausch’s father died in 2006, the family sorted through his things. They rediscovered what they already knew—he was a man full of life and a spirit of adventure. In his father’s belongings, Pausch found photos of his father as a young man playing the accordion; as a middle-aged man doing one of his favorite things, playing Santa; and as an older man clutching a gigantic stuffed bear. There is another photo of him riding a rollercoaster on his eightieth birthday, surrounded by young people and wearing a huge smile.
Some of his father’s mysteries make his son smile. There is a photo of him in a jacket and tie, standing in a grocery store and proudly holding up a small brown paper bag. Pausch has no idea what is in the bag, but he knows his father so he is sure it was something cool. Sometimes his father would come home from work with small treats for his kids, and he always delivered them with dramatic flair and flourish. His delivery was generally more fun than whatever he gave them. The photo with the bag reminds Pausch of those memories.
His father left a stack of papers, most of which were related to his insurance business or documents concerning his nonprofit organization and other charitable projects. Buried in the stack of mundane papers Pausch found a surprising military document—a citation issued in 1945 when his father was in the army. It is a citation for “heroic achievement” granted by the commanding general of the 75th Infantry Division.
His father’s infantry company was attacked by German forces on April 11, 1945. In the early stages of the battle, heavy artillery fire caused injuries to eight men. The citation notes his father’s complete disregard for his own safety as he jumped up from his protected position to give medical treatment to the wounded men of his unit. Shells continued to fall as he worked, and his ministrations were successful. All eight of the wounded men were successfully evacuated. At the age of twenty, Pausch’s father was awarded the Bronze Star for valor.
In his parents’ fifty years of marriage and in the thousands of conversations Pausch had with his father, this information never came up; no one in the family knew anything about it. Weeks after his father died, Pausch was still learning an important lesson from him about sacrifice and humility.
(The entire section is 412 words.)
Chapter 21 Summary
Jai could write her own book about what she has learned since Pausch was diagnosed with cancer. She is a strong woman, direct and honest, willing to speak plainly to her husband. Even knowing their time together is limited, they attempt to interact as normally as possible. She tells her husband she is still learning how to deal with him, but she is making progress.
She used to talk to him about her “gut feelings” about things; however, since he is a scientist, she now brings him data. At Christmas they planned to visit his family, but they all had the flu. Pausch still wants to go since his opportunities to see them are limited, but Jai is sure it would not be best. To make her point, she talks to unbiased medial authorities and gives him their recommendation. Data in hand, Pausch relents and only makes a quick visit by himself; he does not get sick.
Living with a scientist is not easy, but she deals with him by being forthright. Given his prognosis, though, she learns to let the insignificant things go, as suggested by their counselor. Pausch calls himself a “spreader,” leaving his things everywhere and cluttering their living space. Before the diagnosis, this was a point of contention; after it, Jai does not choose this battle. Pausch admits he should be neater; however, he and his wife do not want to spend their last days together fighting over something so mundane. Jai just “kick his clothes into a corner and moves on.”
A friend recommended Jai keep a journal and it has helped. She writes out her frustrations, and she tries to focus on the day she is in rather than worrying about tomorrow. New Year’s Eve is Dylan’s sixth birthday. The family is thrilled that Pausch made it that far. They are also quite aware that next New Year’s Eve will be celebrated without him. Pausch takes Dylan to a movie in which the main character decides it is time for him to die and hand his shop over to an apprentice.
Dylan, unaware of his father’s condition, sits on his Pausch’s lap and cries. One of the characters tells the old man that he cannot die; he has to live. The old man says, “I already did that.” That evening, Pausch is depressed, and Jai cheers him up by reminding of all the love they and their family shared over the past year. She promises to continue raising their children and being there for him, and she tells him how much she loves to watch him...
(The entire section is 506 words.)
Chapter 22 Summary
The Truth Can Set You Free
Pausch is driving near his new home in Virginia and is not paying close enough attention to the speed limit. As a result of his inattention, he is pulled over by a local police officer who, of course, asks to see his driver’s license and registration. Pausch hands him both documents, and the officer notes his address in Pittsburgh on his Pennsylvania driver’s license.
The officer asks if Pausch is here as part of the military, but Pausch explains he has just moved to Virginia and has not yet had an opportunity to get his new license or register his vehicle. The officer asks what brought him to this area. It is a direct question and Pausch, without giving it too much thought, tells him the truth: he has been diagnosed with terminal cancer and he moved his family here to be close to his wife’s family so she will have their support when he dies.
The officer gives him an appraising look and seems skeptical when he repeats the most salient fact, that Pausch has cancer. He is clearly trying to determine if this man is lying to him or if he is really dying. After giving Pausch a long, appraising look, the officer remarks that he looks very good for a guy who only has a few months to live.
Obviously the officer has no way of knowing whether Pausch is telling the truth, and he certainly does not want to be duped by a phony story designed to play on his sympathy. It is a fine line the officer is walking, for he must do the impossible—question this man’s integrity without actually calling him a liar. It is an interesting dilemma for Pausch, being forced to prove that he is telling the truth, and he wonders how he can do that.
He admits to the officer the irony that he looks so healthy on the outside but the tumors are eating him alive on the inside. Again without much thought, Pausch pulls up his shirt and shows the officer the surgical scars on his abdomen. The policeman looks from the scar to Pausch’s face and knows he is looking at a dying man. As he hands back the license and registration, he asks Pausch to do him a favor and slow down.
Pausch has never been one who could talk his way out of a ticket, but this time his awful truth has set him free.
(The entire section is 421 words.)
Chapter 23 Summary
I’m on My Honeymoon, but If You Need Me…
Jai sends her husband for some groceries; he decides he will get out of the store more quickly if he uses the self-scan aisle. He slides his credit card in the machine and scans all of his items, as directed. The machine tells him he owes $16.55 but does not give him a receipt; he swipes his card and starts the process over again. In a moment, the machine gives him two receipts. He has been charged twice.
Pausch has two options. He can take the receipt to the store manager and get the problem fixed, and his account will be credited for the $16.55. It will probably take ten or fifteen minutes, and there will be nothing satisfying about the experience. He asks himself if this is what he wants to spend any of his precious remaining time doing and decides to go home. He lost sixteen dollars but gained fifteen minutes of life.
As a scientist, Pausch is well aware of the importance of time, and it is one of the things he has learned to manage well. Because of that skill, he has been able to pack a lot of living into the shortened life he has been given. There are several things he has learned about managing time.
Like money, time must be managed with intention; he often tells his students it does not matter how well they polish the underside of the banister. A second principle regarding time is that a plan can always be changed, but only if there is a plan. A useful to-do list breaks the larger tasks to be accomplished into smaller pieces.
Another way to ensure effective time management is to ask if the time one has is being spent on the right things. It is a positive thing to have causes, goals, and interests, but it is important to assess them and make sure they are worth pursuing and spending time on consistently. Developing an efficient filing system is also a huge time-saver. Pausch files everything alphabetically, saying it is better than searching the house for a blue paper which he last saw when he was eating something.
Finally, Pausch recommends a re-examination of the telephone. If he is forced to be on hold, he always uses the speaker phone so his hands are free to work on something while he is waiting. He never sits while talking on the phone as an encouragement to finish the call as quickly as possible.
Delegating tasks whenever possible is another time-saving tool Pausch has learned to do, and he...
(The entire section is 492 words.)
Chapter 24 Summary
A Recovering Jerk
It may be the primary goal of every teacher to teach students how to learn, but Pausch wants his students to learn how to judge themselves realistically. The only way for people to improve is to develop the ability to assess themselves. He sees college as paying for a personal trainer at an athletic club. Equipment is provided and trainers (teachers) should be helping students exert themselves, offering praise when it is deserved and telling them honestly when they need to work harder. Just as people who work out see the physical results, students should be able to recognize their minds are growing just as their muscles grow.
Getting students to accept and even welcome feedback is one of the most difficult tasks Pausch had as an educator. In one of his virtual reality classes, students work collaboratively in rotating groups of four and give peer feedback every two weeks. They need one another to accomplish their tasks, and at the end of the semester, each student receives specific points of feedback from multiple sources. Pausch constructs charts showing each student’s ranking relative to others in the class. If, for example, a person thought he was easy to work with, the data would either verify that or demonstrate to him that he was not assessing himself accurately.
Students also give specific suggestions about how others in the group can improve. The feedback is pretty difficult to ignore, yet some students do. In another course, Pausch takes the feedback and divides it into quartiles, so each student is aware specifically of where he ranks in the class. One particularly egotistical but very intelligent student is oblivious to the impression he is giving others, figuring if he was in the bottom twenty-five percent of the class he is probably at least at twenty-four or twenty-five percent rather than in the bottom five percent. And, since that is close to the next quartile up, he basically sees himself as near fifty percent, which means he has no reason to change.
When Pausch has a chance to talk directly to this young man, he tells him that out of fifty students in the class he is ranked last in working well in a group. That means he does not listen and is difficult to get along with, a serious problem for any collaborative work. The young man is shocked, and Pausch tells him about himself as a young man. He had a professor who cared about him enough...
(The entire section is 491 words.)
Chapter 25 Summary
Training a Jedi
Fulfilling a personal childhood dream is satisfying, but Pausch eventually learns that helping others’ dreams come true is even more rewarding. As a teacher at the University of Virginia in 1993, a young man named Tommy Burnett is interviewing to be on Pausch’s research team. In the course of their conversation, Burnett reveals his childhood dream to work on the next Star Wars movie.
The last Star Wars movie was made in 1983. There are no concrete plans to make another one, so Pausch tries to temper Burnett’s aspirations with reality; however, the young man is adamant that more Star Wars movies will be made and he will work on them. It is his plan and it has been his passion since he was six and the first Star Wars movie was released. Others wanted to be Han Solo; he wanted to be the guy who created the special effects, and he read every technical article he could find on the subject.
As Burnett talks, Pausch remembers his first awe-inspiring visit to Disneyland which birthed his desire to create those kinds of rides one day. Pausch knows that having such a goal, even if it is never realized, is a strong motivator, and he knows he can use such a person on his research team.
Burnett believes Pausch was hard on him, but he also had his best interest at heart. One of the things Pausch taught him is that it is not enough just to be smart, since everyone on the team is smart. An effective research team is composed of people who will help everyone else feel happy to be part of the team, and Tommy becomes that kind of person.
When Pausch moved to Carnegie Mellon, his entire research team came with him—everyone except Burnett. He had been hired by George Lucas to work at Industrial Light & Magic on the next Star Wars movies. They did not hire him because of his dreams; they hired him because of his skills as a programmer in the particular language they were using. Sometimes it is luck that gets people where preparation and opportunity alone cannot.
Several years later, Burnett invites Pausch and his students to visit Industrial Light & Magic; he is “like a god” to students who dreamed of such accomplishments for themselves. Burnett and several other former students sit on a panel and Pausch’s current students ask them questions. Many of them are still adapting to Pausch’s demanding...
(The entire section is 475 words.)
Chapter 26 Summary
They Just Blew Me Away
Pausch is an “efficiency freak,” always preferring to do two or—even better, three—things at one time. This prompts him to wonder how he can help a larger group of students achieve their childhood dreams in addition to what he is currently doing. He figures out a way after he arrived at Carnegie Mellon.
He creates a course called “Building Virtual Worlds” (BVW, for short). It is open to fifty undergraduates from all different departments and majors. The group is eclectic, and most of the students would never connect with one another outside of this class. He puts them in random groups of four and gives them a simple two-week project: build a virtual world. They imagine, program, and create new worlds to show their classmates. Every two weeks they begin the process again with new “playmates.”
The only two rules Pausch imposes on their creativity are no shooting and no pornography. The first year Pausch teaches the class he is not sure what to expect; however, the products are amazing, especially since they were created on weak computer programs. He is so impressed, in fact, that he did not know how his students could improve. He calls Andy van Dam for advice. Van Dam tells him to walk into class the next day and tell his students they did a good job but he knows they can do better.
Pausch is not convinced that will be effective, but it is. Because the class is new, he is not sure how high he should set the bar, but he was about to find out. The projects continue to amaze him, and on “show-and-tell” days, fifty people routinely show up to see the projects, including parents, friends, and roommates. Soon they have to move the class to the auditorium on presentation days, where more than four hundred people assemble to cheer for their favorite projects.
Pausch is always able to tell when a presentation is going to be effective because the group members stand huddled closely together; it is clear they connected as they worked on their project. They may or may not ever fulfill their dreams, but they do learn to work together to create something none of them could have created on their own.
Carnegie Mellon allowed Pausch and drama professor Don Marinelli to develop The Entertainment Technology Center and a master’s degree program in which artists and technologists work together on amusement park rides, computer games,...
(The entire section is 495 words.)
Chapter 27 Summary
The Promised Land
Enabling students to fulfill their dreams can be done on the smallest scale (one-on-one) to the grandest scale, as Pausch does by helping create a software teaching tool named Alice. This program allows virtually anyone to create animations for a variety of purposes, such as storytelling, interactive games, or videos. It is a free program offered as a public service by Carnegie Mellon, and Pausch believes it is something tens of millions of kids will use to help achieve their dreams.
Pausch loves Alice because it is a “head-fake”: users think they are using Alice just to make video games or movies, but they are actually learning how to become computer programmers. Just as Walt Disney never wanted Disney World to be finished, Pausch knows that as future generations of Alice are created, they will offer even more to those who use it. The person in charge of the project is one of Pausch’s former students, so he knows its future is in capable hands.
Another of Pausch’s students, Caitlin Kelleher, also became a colleague. She sees how the program makes programming easy, but she asks Pausch what makes it fun as well. He tells her he is a “compulsive male” and likes to make little tin soldiers move around at his command. For her PhD dissertation, Kelleher wonders how to engage girls as well as the boys, and she builds a system called “Storytelling Alice.” She is now a computer professor at Washington University in St. Louis, and she has been able to demonstrate that girls are perfectly willing to learn how to write computer software if it is presented as a storytelling activity.
Boys also like the storytelling format. That kind of “head-fake” to teach students more than they think they are learning makes Kelleher a hero to Pausch. In his last lecture, Pausch says he understands how Moses must have felt when he led his people to the Promised Land but never got to enter it himself; that is how he feels about what lies ahead for Alice. He wants his lecture to be an affirmation of the colleagues and students working on the program: he has confidence in them and knows they will accomplish great things.
Kids who use Alice will learn something incredibly difficult while doing something incredibly fun. They will develop skills which will help them achieve their dreams. As he nears his death, Pausch is comforted by leaving Alice as his professional...
(The entire section is 428 words.)
Chapter 28 Summary
The first man walked on the moon when Pausch was eight years old, in the summer of 1969. Once that happens, Pausch, even as a young boy, knows that anything is possible. This one act gives everyone all over the world permission to dream bigger dreams than ever before. Pausch is at camp that summer and, once the lunar module lands, all the campers are summoned to the main farm house to watch the television.
It takes the astronauts a long time to get organized before they can climb down the ladder and actually walk on the surface of the moon. Pausch can see they have a lot of gear and a lot of important details to which they must attend, so he watches patiently. The adults in the room, though, keep looking at their watches. It is already after eleven o’clock, and while the lunar landing team is making smart decisions, the staff at this camp here on earth makes a “dumb” decision: they send all of the campers to bed. It is just too late for the children to stay up any longer.
Of course Pausch is upset at the camp directors. He is amazed that they think going to bed by a certain time matters when people have landed on the moon for the first time in the history of the world.
Several weeks later, when he arrives home, Pausch learns that his father took a photo of the television set the moment Neil Armstrong placed his foot on the moon. His father preserved the memory, knowing it would help inspire big dreams in his son. Pausch still has that photo in a scrapbook.
It is true that the billions of dollars it took the government to put a man on the moon could have been spent to fight hunger or poverty on earth. Pausch understands that argument; however, he is a scientist who believes inspiration is the best tool for doing good. Money used to fight poverty might be well spent, but it is spent only on a very few. When money is used to put a man on the moon, it is an inspiration for everyone to achieve the greatest human potential—and that is how the world’s greatest problems can best be solved.
Each person should give himself permission to dream and to feed the dreams of others, especially the dreams of children. That may mean occasionally letting them stay up past their bedtimes.
(The entire section is 413 words.)
Chapter 29 Summary
Earnest Is Better Than Hip
Pausch believes he must always choose “earnest” over “hip” because hip is only for the short-term and earnest is always for the long-term. Earnestness, he believes, is underestimated and comes from deep inside, while hip merely skims the surface and has one goal: to impress.
People who are considered hip love parodies, but there is nothing timeless about a parody. It is the earnest person who creates something that will last for generations and is worth parodying. In fact, earnest people create the originals that hipsters feel the need to parody.
A Boy Scout who works diligently to become an Eagle Scout certainly qualifies as someone who is earnest. Any time Pausch interviews people for his research teams and finds a candidate who was an Eagle Scout, he nearly always tries to hire him. He knows there is a certain earnestness to him which will work well on his team and ultimately outweigh any tendencies toward hipness.
In truth, being an Eagle Scout is one of the few things a man can write on his resume at the age of fifty that happened when he was in his teens and it is still impressive. Pausch was an earnest young man though he never became an Eagle Scout.
One area of commerce that masquerades as hip is the fashion industry. Pausch has no interest at all in fashion, and that is why he rarely buys himself new clothes. In his view, the industry is based on the concept that fashion comes in and goes out based solely on what someone, somewhere thinks can be sold. Pausch finds that preposterous.
His parents taught him an important lesson which he adheres to throughout his life, and it does not apply just to his clothing (Jai can attest to it in the area of automobiles). The lesson they taught him is simple: buy new clothes when the old clothes wear out. That is an earnest way to live, but it is certainly not hip. Anyone who has the opportunity to see Pausch in his last lecture will be able to attest that he lives by this advice.
Pausch admits his wardrobe is far from being hip, but that does not bother him. Instead, he sees his clothes as being kind of earnest. Because of that, he is confident they will help him get along just fine in this world.
(The entire section is 400 words.)
Chapter 30 Summary
Raising the White Flag
Pausch’s mother, the proper and demanding English teacher, always called her son “Randolph.” She grew up on a small dairy farm in Virginia during the Depression under circumstances which shaped her life. Like so many others around the country at that time, she often wondered if there would be any food on the dinner table each night. When she had a son, she chose the name “Randolph” because it seemed to her a name that some wealthy, classy Virginian might have. Perhaps that is why Randy never embraced the name. In fact, he “rejected and abhorred” the name. It seemed ridiculous to him for many years of his life.
Pausch makes it clear that he does not want to be called “Randolph." Despite that, his mother continually tries to make everyone use his formal name as she does. Finally, when he is a teenager, Randy confronts her and asks if she really thinks her right to name him is more significant than his right to have his own identity. Her reply is predictable: she calls him Randolph and says she does, indeed, think that she has the right to call him by the name she gave him.
By the time he gets to college, he is no longer willing to accept her premise. When she sends him letters addressed to “Randolph Pausch,” he scribbles a note on the envelope that makes it clear no one by this name lives at this address. He promptly returns his mother’s letters unopened. In the spirit of compromise, his mother begins addressing her letters to “R. Pausch,” and he does open those. Much to his dismay, though, when they talk on the phone she reverts to her preferred form of address when she asks if he got her letter.
It takes him years, but Pausch has finally given up and no longer feels the need to change or fight with his mother over such a relatively insignificant point of contention. He appreciates so many other things about her that he is willing to ignore those four little letters (“olph”) she is determined to attach to him whenever she is around or talks to him. Given the course of his life, he understands that life is too short to spend it on such a thing.
Because time has passed and life has imposed its deadlines on him, Pausch realizes that surrendering is the right thing to do.
(The entire section is 408 words.)
Chapter 31 Summary
Let’s Make a Deal
While he is in graduate school, Pausch gets into the habit of tipping back in his chair at the dining-room table at his parents’ house. Whenever he visits them, he tilts his chair back and, predictably, his mother scolds him for doing so. She calls him Randolph when she scolds him, of course, telling him he is going to break the chair.
Pausch likes leaning back in the chair. It is comfortable and, despite his mother’s admonition, the chair seems perfectly adept at holding him up on only two of its four legs. Because of that, Pausch leans back in that chair, meal after meal, and every time his mother scolds him for doing it.
One day Pausch’s mother tells him to stop leaning back in his chair; this time she adds the warning that she will not tell him again. That is something her son has been waiting to hear, so he suggests they develop a kind of contract—a document between parent and child, in writing. The terms are fairly straightforward. If Pausch breaks the chair, he will not only have to replace only the broken chair; he will have to replace the entire dining room set, something his mother hopes will be an inducement to quit tipping the chair. (Plus, the set is twenty years old and replacing just one chair would be virtually impossible.) As long as he does not break the chair, though, his mother agrees not to harangue him. No broken chair, no lectures.
It is true that his mother is right; tilting a four-legged chair so that only two of the legs support his weight does put stress on the chair. Pausch and his mother agree that their contract is a way for them to avoid such consistent arguing. He acknowledges his responsibility in case the chair gets damaged, and she is in the perfect position to tell him he should learn to listen to his mother if, in fact, one of the legs cracks.
The chair has not broken. When Pausch goes home, sits in the chair, and tilts it back against the wall, the agreement is still in effect and there are no arguments or cross words. In truth, the entire dynamic has changed. His mother has never actually encouraged him to lean the chair back, but there is no doubt in her son’s mind that she has had her eye on a new dining room set for a long time.
(The entire section is 418 words.)
Chapter 32 Summary
Don’t Complain, Just Work Harder
Too many people spend their lives complaining about their problems. Pausch believes that if people spent one-tenth of the energy they spend on complaining and used it to solve the problem, they would be amazed at how well things might turn out for them. But not everyone is a complainer.
Sandy Blatt, Pausch’s landlord while he is in graduate school, is not a complainer. He had a tragic accident when he was a young man. While he was unloading boxes into the cellar of a building, a truck backed into him. He fell backwards down the stairs and into the cellar. One time when Pausch asked him how far he fell, Blatt simply said, “Far enough.” Blatt has spent the rest of his life as a quadriplegic. At the time of the accident, Blatt was an amazing athlete and engaged to be married. He did not want to place such a burden on the woman he loved, and he told her he would understand if she wanted to back out of their engagement. She did.
When Pausch meets Blatt, he is in his thirties and has an amazing, positive attitude. It is unimaginable to think of him whining. He worked hard to become a licensed marriage counselor, and he and his wife adopted several children. Any time he talks about his medical issues, he does so quite matter-of-factly and without complaint. Once he explains to Pausch that changes in temperature are difficult for a quadriplegic because they are unable to shiver. He asks Pausch to hand him a blanket, and that is the end of the matter.
Pausch’s favorite non-complainer is Jackie Robinson. He was the first African-American to play Major League Baseball and endured unimaginable racism. He understood that he was going to have to play better and worker harder than any of the white players, so he did. No matter what the players or the fans did, he was determined not to complain.
At one time, Pausch had a photo of this non-whining baseball hero hanging in his office, and it made him sad to realize so many of his students had no idea who he was. In fact, many of these young people are so used to color images that they did not even notice the old, black-and-white photo hanging on the wall.
Pausch thinks it is a shame because people like Sandy Blatt and Jackie Robinson are the best kind of role models. They are proof that complaining is not a winning strategy. Everyone has a finite amount of time and energy, and any time...
(The entire section is 454 words.)
Chapter 33 Summary
Treat the Disease, Not the Symptom
One of the young women Pausch used to date was several thousand dollars in debt. Not surprisingly, this was a major source of stress for her, and every month more interest got added to her debts. Again, it was not surprising that this only served to compound her stress. To help deal with the mounting pressures of her growing debt, she decided she would attend a meditation and yoga class every Tuesday night. It was the only free night she had available in her busy schedule, but she insisted the class helped alleviate her stress.
The classes became a kind of refuge. As she breathed in, she would imagine herself finding creative solutions to deal with her debts. As she breathed out, she told herself that her money woes would soon be part of her past. Tuesday after Tuesday, she would repeat these breathing exercises as a means of lessening her burden. While the thoughts were positive and the idea was good, neither breathing in nor breathing out helped her get out of her financial straits. Her self-talk did nothing to improve her situation; she actually needed to do something.
One day Pausch looked through her finances with her. It did not take him long to offer her a reasonable solution to her problem. If she were to work a part-time job on those Tuesday nights instead of attending the yoga and meditation classes, she would be completely out of debt in four or five months.
Pausch made sure his girlfriend knew he had absolutely nothing against either yoga or meditation. What he does believe is that it is always better to treat the disease first; if that happens, there is no need to worry about the symptoms. In this case, the young woman’s stress and anxiety were the symptoms of a more significant disease: owing money she could not repay. He made what was, to him, the logical suggestion that she quit attending her yoga class for a while. Surprisingly, this idea was a bit of a revelation to her. She had never considered actually doing something to alleviate her worry and pay off her debt.
The young lady took his advice and became a Tuesday-night waitress. She was soon able to pay off her debts. Once she did, of course, she was able to attend her yoga class and really breathe easier.
(The entire section is 401 words.)
Chapter 34 Summary
Don’t Obsess Over What People Think
It is Pausch’s experience and belief that people spend an inordinate amount of time every day worrying about what other people think of them. It is a useless pursuit and a waste of time. The scientist in him has got it all figured it out: if people never worried about what other people might possibly be thinking about them, the world would be thirty-three percent more effective both at their jobs and in their lives. (In truth, of course, Pausch cannot substantiate his figure of thirty-three percent with any statistical data. He says he likes exact numbers, whether he can prove them or not, and he plans to stick with this one.)
Pausch regularly worked with teams of people on all kinds of research and projects. He used to tell everyone in his research and other groups that they never had to spend time worrying about or trying to guess what he thinks about the work they are doing. If he had something good to say, he would say it; if he had something bad to say, he would say that, too. If Pausch was unhappy about something he saw in the research or among the team, he spoke up. True to form, of course, he usually spoke directly and with little or no tact.
On the positive side, Pausch believed he was able to be a reassuring presence for members of his team. He wanted them to understand that if he has not said anything—good or bad—to them, they were doing their work in an acceptable manner and have nothing to worry about from him. In his mind, no comment at all represented his implied consent for the job they were doing.
His students and colleagues had to adjust their thinking about the way they expect and receive feedback, but they soon came to appreciate that about working with Pausch. As a consequence, he believed his people were much more productive since they did not spend needless time and energy obsessing over what he might be thinking of them. He says that is because most of the time what he was thinking was simple: he was thinking that he was glad to have people on his team who, because they are not worrying about what he thinks, were thirty-three percent more effective than everyone else.
(The entire section is 396 words.)
Chapter 35 Summary
Start by Sitting Together
When Pausch has the opportunity to work with a team, he imagines them sitting down together at a table with a deck of cards. He wants to lay all of his cards on the table, face up, and ask the group what they can do together with the hand he has laid out for them. Working together effectively is a vital skill both at work and in families. Pausch uses his classroom projects to teach his students this life skill.
Teaching his students how to improve their group dynamics has become a kind of obsession for Pausch, and each semester he begins by dividing his classes into four-person groups and then spending time on a handout he developed called “Tips for Working Successfully in a Group.” While many students see the list as being childish and rather beneath them, the more self-aware students heed his advice. His guidelines are fairly simple.
First, meet people properly. Make sure to learn the pronunciation of everyone’s name and exchange contact information. Second, find things in common. Generally it does not take long to find a commonality; from there, it is much easier to handle the inevitable differences of opinion. (If nothing else, everyone has the weather in common.) Next, try to achieve the optimal meeting conditions. Be sure no one is hungry, cold, or tired, and remember food “softens” any meeting.
One of the most difficult guidelines is to let everyone talk. Talking louder and faster does not make an idea any better, and finishing someone else’s sentence limits potential ideas. Fifth, check all egos at the door. Label all ideas as ideas, not by who offered them. Sixth, praise each other. Find something nice to say, even if it is a strain to do so. Finally, phrase alternatives as questions; this allows people to offer comments instead of defending a choice.
As he takes attendance, Pausch tells his classes it is much easier if he calls a group than calling every name on the list. He begins, and the members of each group, scattered around the room, raise their hands. He still has to count and they do not get the point, so he tries it again…and again, until he finally raises his voice and asks why they are all sitting with their friends instead of with their group.
His theatrics usually work, and he steps out of the room, giving them sixty seconds to assemble their groups. When he returns, he reminds them that he is not...
(The entire section is 459 words.)
Chapter 36 Summary
Look for the Best in Everybody
Jon Snoddy is Pausch’s hero and friend; he is also a Disney Imagineer who has a unique way of looking at the world. One piece of advice from Snoddy makes a tremendous impression on Pausch. He believes that if a person waits long enough, people will surprise and impress him. This is a lesson he has learned over the course of his life and is something he lives by today.
This kind of thinking is what inspires Pausch to consider Snoddy his hero, and he begins to think as his hero does. Sometimes, when people are frustrating him and making him angry, perhaps it is because he has not yet given them enough time. Snoddy warns him that many times great patience is required; sometimes it even takes years. In the end, though, the Disney Imagineer believes people will demonstrate their positive attributes and good behavior. We must all learn to patient, as almost everyone has a good side, and there is nothing to do but wait for it to come out. If we are patient and are looking for something good, it will happen.
(The entire section is 192 words.)
Chapter 37 Summary
Watch What They Do, Not What They Say
Chloe Pausch is only eighteen months old, so she is too young for her father to tell her this now, but when she is old enough to understand he wants her to know something he once heard from a female colleague. What Pausch’s friend said is good advice for all young women; in fact, he believes it may be the best advice of any kind he has ever gotten.
She told Pausch that it took her a long time to figure this out, but she eventually did and she wanted to share it with him. What she learned is actually quite simple. When a man is romantically interested in her, she ignores everything he says; instead, she only pays attention to what he does. It is his actions that speak the loudest and are probably closer to his true character than whatever words so easily pass his lips. Obviously this is true of more than a potential romantic partner and can be applied to everyone we meet.
Pausch writes that simple but powerful advice here for his daughter Chloe to read one day. The more he thinks about it, the more Pausch is convinced it is probably good advice for Dylan and Logan to hear from him as well.
(The entire section is 218 words.)
Chapter 38 Summary
If at First You Don’t Succeed...
While most people consider clichés to be trite and overused, Pausch has great respect for them. He believes they are old and overused because they are so often an accurate assessment of life. Educators try to avoid clichés, but they should not because young people do not know most of them. They are a new audience and are generally inspired by the truths clichés present.
“Dance with the one who brung you” is a saying that is applicable on more than just prom night. This is a reminder that one should appreciate and practice loyalty. “Luck is what happens when preparation meets opportunity” comes from the Roman philosopher named Seneca. He was born in 5 B.C., and this saying is worth repeating for another several thousand years. “Whether you think you can or can’t, you’re right” is a cliché Pausch tells all of his incoming students. Another overused expression he uses with new students is “other than that, Mrs. Lincoln, how was the play?” It is a reminder to them not to focus on the small things while ignoring the major ones.
The pop culture clichés, like Superman fighting for truth, justice, and the American way, are powerful and Pausch is moved by them. In the original Rocky movie, Rocky does not care if he wins the fight at the end of the film; all he wants is not to be knocked out. That attitude inspires Pausch because it reminds him that it does not matter how hard he hits; what matters is how hard he gets hit and then moving forward after he takes the blow.
Pausch’s favorite clichés are, not surprisingly, centered on the game of football. His colleagues are used to seeing him wander the halls of Carnegie Mellon while he tosses a football up and down in front of him. This is something that helps Pausch think, and he is able to use some classic football clichés to inspire both male and female students. When his students are having difficulty in his classes, he talks to them in football clichés, telling them it will be easier for them to learn the basics of football than for him to learn a new set of clichés.
He encourages his classes to win one for the Gipper, to keep the drive alive, to move forward and execute, and to avoid costly turnovers and win games in the trenches, despite the fact that they are going to feel the effects of it on Monday. Pausch’s students are well aware that it is not...
(The entire section is 453 words.)
Chapter 39 Summary
Be the First Penguin
“Experience is what you get when you didn’t get what you wanted” is an expression Pausch learned while on sabbatical at Electronic Arts, a company which creates video games. It is a phrase that he remembers long after his time at the company and he uses regularly with his students. It reflects a life lesson which needs to be considered at every brick wall and disappointment people encounter: it is a reminder that failure is not only acceptable but is often essential to growth and improvement.
When he teaches his “Building Virtual Worlds” course, Pausch encourages his students to attempt difficult things without worrying about failing. He wants to find a way to reward that kind of thinking, so at the end of each semester he presents one team of students with a stuffed penguin. It is called “The First Penguin Award,” and he gives it to the team which took the biggest risk in trying new technology or new ideas but failed to achieve their goals. It is a reward for “glorious failure,” and it celebrates imaginative and creative thinking. Pausch used to call it “The Best Failure Award,” but it just had too many connotations. Once he changes the name, everyone comes to see these “winners” as losers who have a whole lot of potential to succeed.
The title of the award comes from an observation about penguins. When a group of penguins is gathered near the edge of water that might contain predators, one of the creatures has to go first. Somebody has to be the first penguin.
Pausch reassures his students that in the entertainment industry, hundreds and hundreds of projects fail. If someone is building a house and something goes wrong, it can generally still be lived in; if someone creates a video game there is no guarantee it will make it through research and development. Even worse, it may be released to the public and no one wants to play it. Video-gamers who have experienced success are, indeed, valued; however, those who have failed often have the same value—and sometimes even more.
Young businesses and start-up companies will often hire a chief executive officer who has had a failed start-up in his past because the person who has failed generally knows how to avoid failure in the future. If a person only knows success, he is more likely to be oblivious to the dangers and pitfalls that can lead to failure. While it is true that...
(The entire section is 440 words.)
Chapter 40 Summary
Get People’s Attention
The majority of Pausch’s students are incredibly intelligent, and he is confident they will enter the world of work and create amazing things, including software programs, animation projects, and entertainment devices. One other thing he is confident about is the fact that they could use that same potential to cause tremendous frustration to people while they do so.
People who think about things, such as computer scientists and engineers, think a lot about how to build things; what they do not always think a lot about is building and creating things that are easy for people to use. Explaining even simple things is often difficult for them, and most of them do a terrible job of explaining complex tasks in simple ways. One look at the instruction manual for a VCR, for example, will prove this point.
Because of that, Pausch insists that his students think about those who will benefit from their creations—the end users. After considering how best to impress upon them the importance of creating technology that is not frustrating, he developed a no-fail attention-getter.
During a “user interface” class he taught at the University of Virginia, he would bring a working VCR to class on the first day of the semester. After placing it on the desk in front of the class, he took out a sledgehammer and completely destroyed the VCR as his students watched. His comments were simple and straightforward. If these future creators and innovators make something that is difficult to use, people will get upset. Often they will get angry enough that they will want to destroy whatever it is. These students’ goal, then, must be to create things that people will want to use, be able to use, and not destroy.
The students’ reactions ranged from shocked to bewildered to slightly amused, but all of them were excited for what was ahead of them that semester. After this opening stunt, they were interested to see what the second day of class would bring.
Pausch was able to get their attention, which is the first step in solving an overlooked problem. When he left to go to Carnegie Mellon, one of Pausch’s colleagues gave him a sledgehammer with a plaque which read: “So many VCRs, so little time.”
All of those University of West Virginia students are now in the work force. As they do their jobs, as they create new...
(The entire section is 430 words.)
Chapter 41 Summary
The Lost Art of Thank-You Notes
One of the most powerful things one person can do for another is also one of the simplest things—showing gratitude. Despite Pausch’s commitment to efficiency in most areas of his life, he believes thank-you notes are best when they are done the old-fashioned way, with pen and paper.
People who read a lot of applications, such as job interviewers and college admissions officers, read a significant number of resumes from students who would all be considered successful because they have stellar grades and impressive lists of accomplishments. What these professionals do not see many of is handwritten thank-you notes.
For students with a B+ average, that kind of thank-you note will raise them to the “A” level in the eyes of most admissions counselors or bosses. Just as importantly, because the practice of writing anything by hand is so rare, students who do so are certainly going to make themselves memorable to these kinds of professionals.
Pausch does not advise his students to write these kinds of notes for purely manipulative or mercenary reasons, though surely there are those who see the practice merely as a way to get their next job. What he hopes to help them recognize is that there are respectful, considerate things they can do in the course of their professional lives which will be appreciated by their recipients. And, when they do such a considerate act, good things will necessarily follow.
One young woman applied to Pausch’s Entertainment Technology Center, and she was about to be denied admittance. Her dreams were big: she wanted to be a Disney Imagineer. Everything she submitted—her grades, her portfolio, her exams—was good, but it was not quite good enough for such an elite program. Before he put her file in the rejection pile, Pausch flipped through its contents one last time. He discovered a handwritten thank-you note slipped between several pages.
The note had been written to the non-faculty support staffer who helped make her arrangements when she came to visit, not to the directors or others who might be influenced by the gesture. She simply wrote a few words of thanks to someone whose help she appreciated, not knowing that person would place it in her file or that Pausch would see it several weeks later.
Since she thanked someone just because it was a nice thing to do, Pausch gave her...
(The entire section is 500 words.)
Chapter 42 Summary
Loyalty Is a Two-Way Street
Dennis Cosgrove is an undergraduate student at the University of Virginia in the early nineties; he is an impressive research assistant in Pausch’s computer lab, is a teaching assistant in an operating systems course, is taking graduate level courses, and is an A student—in every class but one. Cosgrove is failing his calculus III class.
He is able to do the work, but he is so focused on other things that he simply stops going to his calculus class. Of course this becomes a serious problem, especially since it is not the first time in his college career that Cosgrove has earned all A’s with one F. Two weeks into the semester, one of the deans notices Cosgrove’s sketchy academic record. He is aware of the young man’s capabilities based on his test scores, and he assumes his problems reflect an attitude problem rather than a lack of aptitude. He wants to expel Cosgrove from the university.
Pausch knows that Cosgrove has received no warnings; in fact, his GPA is high enough to keep him from any kind of academic suspension. The Dean finds a way to get rid of him, but Pausch takes on his cause. Pausch argues that this is a young man with a stellar future and that the university is here to teach and nurture. Pausch insists that Cosgrove be allowed to stay in school, but he is seen as a pushy young professor and the Dean is not convinced. Then Pausch goes a step farther and uses tactics to get his way.
He argues that the university just cashed Cosgrove’s tuition check, a tacit statement that says he is welcome as a student on this campus. If he had been expelled before the semester began, he could have tried to enroll at another school. Now that is not an option. Pausch even mentions the possibility that the young man might hire a lawyer, and Pausch might testify against the university.
The Dean is surprised at Pausch’s passion and asks why he is willing to place his own job and career at risk for this young man. Pausch says it is a simple matter of believing in him. The dean speaks of tenure, telling Pausch he will remember this incident when the time comes. Pausch understands the veiled threat: if Cosgrove does not turn his academic career around, Pausch’s judgment will be under serious question. Dennis is allowed to stay.
Cosgrove passes Calculus III and goes on to be “an award-winning star in computer science” and...
(The entire section is 513 words.)
Chapter 43 Summary
The Friday Night Solution
Pausch receives tenure a year earlier than most professors typically do, which is impressive to the other junior faculty members. When they ask him his secret, Pausch tells them it is simple. All they have to do is call him at his office at 10:00 on a Friday night and he will tell them his secret. (This was before he had a family, of course.)
Many people are looking for a shortcut to success. For Pausch the best shortcut is generally the longest way and comes down to two essential words: work hard. In his view, working longer hours than other people allows him to learn more about his craft. This, in turn, makes him more efficient, more able, and even happier. Pausch believes that hard work follows the same principle as compounded interest in a bank account; faster rewards will accrue.
This principle is as true in life as it is in a career. For all of his adult life, Pausch has felt compelled to ask couples who have been married for a long time how they managed to stay together. Each one of them tells him the same thing: they worked hard at their marriages.
(The entire section is 200 words.)
Chapter 44 Summary
Shortly after gaining tenure at the University of Virginia, Pausch takes his research team (fifteen people) to Disney World as a thank-you for their hard work and commitment to his research. One of his colleagues, a fellow professor, takes him aside and asks why he would do such a thing. Clearly he and other nearly tenured professors are concerned that Pausch is setting a precedent which they are not willing to commit to as well.
Pausch tells him he has no choice: this team worked incredibly hard and was responsible for helping him get “the best job in the world for life.” A trip to Disney World is the least he can do to repay them. The sixteen of them drive a van to Florida, and they have a wonderful time. Pausch ensures they get some education along with their entertainment, stopping along the way to visit universities and computer research groups.
This trip is an easy way for Pausch to show his gratitude. It is a tangible gift and an experience he can share with the people he appreciates; however, not everyone is so easily thanked. One of Pausch’s greatest mentors is Andy van Dam, his computer science professor at Brown. He gave the young Pausch wise counsel, wisdom that changed his life. Since there is really no way to pay him back for that, Pausch believes he must “pay it forward.” His trip to Disney World with his research team, talking with them about their goals and dreams, is Pausch’s way of doing just that.
(The entire section is 261 words.)
Chapter 45 Summary
Send Out Thin Mints
One of Pausch’s responsibilities is being an academic reviewer, which means he has to ask other professors to read rather tedious research papers, a task none of them particularly enjoys doing. He discovers a practical plan that works. With each paper that needs reviewing, he sends the professor a box of Girl Scout Thin Mints. In a note, he tells them this is their reward—but they cannot eat the cookies until the paper is finished.
This makes his colleagues smile, and Pausch never has to call and nag them. They see the box on their desks and know what they have to do. If he does have to send gentle e-mail reminders, he simply asks if they have eaten their cookies yet. A box of cookies is an effective communication tool as well as a sweet reward.
(The entire section is 143 words.)
Chapter 46 Summary
All You Have Is What You Bring With You
Pausch has always believed he must be prepared for every situation. He asks himself what he might need every day before he leaves his house, and he anticipates any questions students might ask in class each day. Now, as he is preparing for his family’s future without him, he thinks about the preparations he needs to make before he goes.
His mother took him to the grocery store when he was seven. When she got to the checkout lane, she realized she had forgotten several items on her shopping list. She left the cart with her son and went to grab the final items on her list. In the short time she was gone, Pausch had loaded everything from the cart onto the moving belt and the cashier had rung up his order. Then he was left staring at the cashier as she expected him to pay for the groceries.
The cashier decided to have some fun with him and asked how he planned to pay for his order, but Pausch did not understand she was just teasing him. He simply stood there, mortified and embarrassed. When his mother returned, Pausch turned on her angrily, scolding her for not leaving him any money. He was mortified that when the cashier asked him for money he had nothing to give her.
Now, Pausch never has less than $200 in his wallet. He is prepared. Though he could certainly end up losing that money through theft or carelessness, it is a risk he is willing to take and can afford. In his mind, not having the cash when he needs it is potentially a worse problem.
Pausch has always admired people who are over-prepared. In college, one of his classmates was giving a presentation using an overhead projector; in the middle of the talk the projector bulb blew out and the audience groaned, knowing it was going to take ten minutes to find a replacement projector. The presenter announced that they had nothing to worry about as he took a spare bulb out of his backpack.
The professor, Andy van Dam, was sitting next to Pausch; he leaned over and said that this young man would be “going places.” Van Dam was correct, for that young man became a top executive at Macromedia Inc., and nearly everyone who uses the Internet has been impacted by him.
Another way to be prepared is to think negatively, to anticipate the “worst-case scenario.” Pausch calls it the “Eaten By Wolves Factor,” and this kind of thinking makes it...
(The entire section is 500 words.)
Chapter 47 Summary
A Bad Apology Is Worse Than No Apology
An apology should not be thought of as pass/fail. Pausch tells his students that any apology which receives less than an A is not really an apology. A halfhearted or insincere apology is often worse than no apology at all because it is seen as insulting. Doing something wrong to another person is like having an infection in the relationship. An effective apology serves as an antibiotic, but a bad apology is like rubbing salt into an open wound.
Most of Pausch’s classes involve considerable group work, and it is inevitable that friction between group members will occur. Some students do not do their share of the work, while others are arrogant and belittling to other group members. By the middle of the semester, apologies are always necessary. When students refuse to offer them, the groups are no longer effective. That is when Pausch gives them his speech on apologies.
He starts by describing two bad apologies. The first offers an apology for hurting the other person; it is an attempt to take care of a symptom but does not heal the wound. The second offers an apology but insists the other person also needs to apologize. This is, in essence, asking for an apology, not giving one. A proper apology has three parts: an admission of what one did wrong, an admission that one feels badly about hurting the other person, and asking how one can make things better.
It is true that some people might take advantage of the final component, demanding something outrageous or ridiculous in exchange for forgiveness. Most people, however, will appreciate the effort and intent of a sincere apology. Often they will try to help make things better themselves. Students ask what happens if they apologize but receive no apology in return. Pausch tells them that is out of their control and they must not let it bother them.
If a person offers a heartfelt apology to someone who owes them one as well, it may be a while before he or she receives any kind of response. The odds of both parties being in the same emotional state of mind to offer a sincere apology at the same time are small. He tells his students to be patient. Many times in the course of his career, Pausch has seen students apologize and it takes several days for the rest of the team to get back to its normal footing. Patience in such matters is appreciated and will be rewarded.
(The entire section is 426 words.)
Chapter 48 Summary
Tell the Truth
If Pausch only gets to offer three words of advice for everyone, they would be “tell the truth.” If he gets to add three more words, he will add “all the time.” His parents taught him that a person is only as good as his word, and that is the best way Pausch knows how to say it.
Not only is honesty a moral imperative, it is also efficient. In an environment where everyone tells the truth, no one has to spend time double-checking or verifying claims of truth. Pausch loves the University of Virginia honor code. If a student has been sick and needs to make up an exam, Pausch does not have to create a second exam because the student “pledges” that he has not spoken to anyone about the exam that he missed.
There are lots of reasons why people choose to lie, mostly because they feel like they may get what they want with less effort if they tell an untruth. Though it may be effective in the short-term, it is never effective in the long-term. People remember when they have been lied to, and that is something they do not generally keep to themselves. It is stunning to Pausch that so many people think they get away with a lie when, in fact, they do not.
(The entire section is 224 words.)
Chapter 49 Summary
Get in Touch With Your Crayon Box
Pausch is often accused of seeing things only in black and white. Some of them even say that if someone wants clear-cut advice, he should go talk to Professor Pausch. If, however, someone wants advice which is gray, Pausch is not their best option.
Even as a young child, Pausch used to say his crayon box only had two colors in it— black and white. This is probably why he loves computer science, a field where almost everything is either true or false. With time, though, Pausch has come to appreciate that a good crayon box may actually have more than two colors in it; however, an effective life will wear out the black and white crayons long before the rest.
Pausch loves crayons. In his last lecture, he wanted everyone who entered the hall to receive one, but he forgot to give them to the door ushers. What he wanted to do, when he spoke about childhood dreams, was have the audience close their eyes and roll the crayons in their fingers. He wanted them to be taken back to their childhoods as they touched and smelled their crayons. Pausch saw a colleague do a similar exercise, and it impressed him enough that he often carries a crayon in his shirt pocket. When he needs some inspiration from the past, he pulls it out and immediately he is right back to his childhood. Though Pausch prefers the black and white crayons, all of them have the power to move people. Try it and see.
(The entire section is 262 words.)
Chapter 50 Summary
The $100,000 Salt and Pepper Shaker
When Pausch is twelve and his sister Tammy is fourteen, their parents take them to Disney World. For the first time, the two are old enough to roam around a bit on their own. Their parents arrange a meeting place, and the kids have ninety minutes of virtually complete freedom.
As an expression of their gratefulness at being allowed such extraordinary freedom, Pausch and his sister want to buy their parents a thank-you gift. They pool their allowance and find what they consider to be the perfect gift for such an occasion: a ceramic salt and pepper shaker set. The gift costs them ten dollars, all of their allowance money, and after they purchase it the siblings head toward Main Street and their next adventure.
Pausch is holding the gift and in a “horrible instant” the gift falls out of his hands. The ceramic item shatters on impact, and two young people are shattered as well. An adult in the park happens to see the incident and comes to console the children. She tells them to go back to the store and explain what happened, confident that they will replace the item. Pausch does not feel that is fair, since he was the one who dropped it, but they went anyway.
Pausch and his sister go back to the store and tell the employees exactly what happened. The workers smile and give them a new salt and pepper set. They even take the blame, saying they should have wrapped the gift more carefully. The message they convey is that they should have anticipated the possible consequences of an over-excited twelve-year-old. The kids leave the store in a state of disbelief but giddy with excitement. When their parents hear the story, their appreciation for Disney World rises considerably. In fact, that one ten-dollar item earned Disney more than $100,000 over time.
Because of their appreciation for Disney, the Pausches regularly made visits to Disney World part of their volunteer work. Over twenty years, they bought tickets for dozens of kids to visit the theme park and took many other groups as well. In all, between admission, food, and souvenirs for themselves and others, they have spent over $100,000 at Disney World.
As a Disney Imagineering consultant, Pausch often tells the story of the ten-dollar salt and pepper shaker to Disney executives. He asks them whether their employees today, in the same circumstances, would be allowed to do the...
(The entire section is 493 words.)
Chapter 51 Summary
No Job Is Beneath You
There is plenty of evidence to prove that young people today feel an increasing sense of entitlement, and that trend is evident in classrooms as well. Pausch sees it first-hand in his classroom. Unfortunately, a large group of seniors have the attitude that they should be hired simply because they have some kind of creative brilliance. The idea of starting at the bottom in the workplace is not appealing to them; they believe they deserve more.
Pausch always tells his students that they should be thrilled to be hired for a job in someplace as modest as a mailroom. They should take the job and, when they get there, they should get really great at sorting mail. It is so unpleasant to hear anyone claim he is no good at sorting mail because the job is so beneath him. There is no job which should be beneath anyone, and anyone who is unable or unwilling to sort mail does not inspire confidence that he can do anything else.
When Entertainment Technology Center graduates are hired for internships or other entry-level jobs, Pausch asks for feedback about how the interns are doing in order to improve the ETC program. It is rare for him to hear anything negative about the employees’ abilities or technical capabilities. If he ever does get negative feedback, it almost always has to do with graduates feeling too big for the jobs they are in; these employees are often looking past their present positions with distaste as they believe themselves already worthy of a corner office.
At fifteen, Pausch hoed strawberries at an orchard, and most of his co-workers were day-laborers. Several teachers also worked with him, earning some extra money over the summer. One day he told his father it seemed as if this job was beneath the teachers. Of course, he was also implying that he was too good for the job as well. Pausch’s father gave him an unforgettable lecture, the “tongue-lashing of a lifetime.” He told his son that he would rather have him work hard to become the best ditch-digger in the world than become some kind of elitist worker who coasts in his job, impressed with his own self-importance.
After his father’s lecture, Pausch returned to the strawberry field. He still did not like the job, but he heard and understood his father’s message. Pausch paid a little more attention to his attitude and worked a little harder as well.
(The entire section is 417 words.)
Chapter 52 Summary
Know Where You Are
When Pausch arrives at Disney, he is greeted by Mk Haley, a twenty-seven-year-old Imagineer who has been given the task of supervising him during his sabbatical at Disney Imagineering. Haley is not impressed by academic credentials and asks Pausch what he has to offer the company.
For the first time, Pausch is in a place where his qualifications as a tenured professor mean nothing to anyone around him, and he feels as if he is traveling through a foreign country and has to find a way to earn some local currency. He has been trying to teach his students this lesson for years, and now he has to follow his own advice.
Though he has achieved his primary childhood dream of becoming a Disney Imagineer, he has gone from being the head of his own research lab, accountable to virtually no one, to a place where he has to produce or go home. He has to figure out how to make his quirky ways work for him in this intensely creative culture.
Pausch begins working on the Aladdin virtual reality attraction which was being tested at Epcot. He and other Imagineers survey guests about their experience with the ride, asking if they got dizzy, nauseated, or disoriented. Some of his colleagues accuse him of using academic techniques which are not applicable in this environment. To them he is too focused on data and too insistent on a scientific rather than an emotional approach. It is a classic clash of serious academia versus serious entertainment.
Once Pausch is able to show them scientifically how to save twenty seconds per guest by loading the ride differently, he gains some credibility with the Imagineers who originally doubted he could be useful to them. This is a lesson in how sensitive it often is to cross from one culture to another. Pausch teaches this lesson to students who are about to transition from school to their first jobs.
At the end of his sabbatical, Pausch is offered a full-time position with Disney Imagineering. It is a difficult decision for him, but he eventually turns down the job. The call of teaching is too strong; however, he has learned to breach the gap between education and entertainment and Disney manages to keep him involved. Pausch becomes a once-a-week consultant for Imagineering, something he happily does for ten years. Anyone who manages to find his footing between two worlds can often have the best of both cultures.
(The entire section is 415 words.)
Chapter 53 Summary
Never Give Up
Pausch applied to Brown University but was placed on a waiting list; he called the admissions office so often they eventually admitted him. They saw how badly he wanted to be there, and his tenacity hurled him over the brick wall which was obstructing his goal.
Pausch had absolutely no intention of going to graduate school; in his family, people went to college and then got jobs. However, his mentor Andy van Dam told Pausch he should get his PhD and become a professor: he said Pausch was a great salesman; if he began working for a company, they would use him as a salesman. If Pausch were going to be a salesman, he might as well sell something worth having, like an education.
Many of van Dam’s best students attended graduate school at Carnegie Mellon, and that is where he advises Pausch to go. He is confident Pausch will be accepted and writes him a letter of recommendation. The admissions committee sees van Dam’s positive letter and Pausch’s mediocre grades and unimpressive graduate-exam scores. They reject him.
Other places accept him, but Carnegie Mellon is not interested. Pausch takes his rejection letter and places it on his mentor’s desk; he tells van Dam that Carnegie Mellon does not value his recommendations. He immediately picks up the phone to call the university, but Pausch says he does not want to gain admittance that way. They make a deal: Pausch will take a look at the schools which have accepted him; if none of them suit him, they will talk again.
None of the other schools suit him at all, and soon Pausch returns to talk with van Dam, telling him he has decided not to attend graduate school and plans to get a job. The professor is adamant. Van Dam calls Carnegie Mellon and speaks to the head of the computer science department—in Dutch. After he hangs up, van Dam tells Pausch to be in Nico’s office at 8:00 in the morning.
The meeting is clearly just a favor to van Dam, and Nico is not inclined to be overly accommodating. When he asks Pausch why he should reconsider his application after it has already been denied, the young man says he has won a full fellowship from the Office of Naval Research, which would bring money to Carnegie Mellon. Nico looks at him, almost through him, and it is a life-altering moment. The university does not make its decisions based on money, and Pausch assures him he only wanted Nico to...
(The entire section is 503 words.)
Chapter 54 Summary
Be a Communitarian
Americans place a lot of emphasis on the idea of personal rights, and that is how it should be. However, no discussion of rights should be held without a discussion of responsibilities as well. Rights have an origin, and in America Pausch believes they come from the community. In return, each citizen has a responsibility to his community. While some people call this being a “communitarian,” he simply calls it common sense.
Unfortunately, this is a concept which is no longer common. In his twenty years of teaching, Pausch has observed that more and more students are completely unaware of the reality that rights come only with responsibilities. At the beginning of each semester, he has his students sign an agreement which outlines their rights and responsibilities. They have to agree to work constructively in groups, to attend certain meetings, and to give honest feedback in order to help their peers grow and learn. In exchange for these responsibilities, they earn the right to remain in the class and have their work displayed and critiqued.
Some students are reluctant to sign the agreement, perhaps because adults have not been particularly good role models in communitarian endeavors. One good example is the right to a jury trial, something nearly everyone wants if it becomes necessary; at the same time, these same citizens work diligently to avoid having to serve on a jury. Pausch wants to teach them that rights and responsibilities are connected and everyone must contribute to the common good. Not doing that is nothing but selfish.
When Pausch was young, his father taught him by example but also looked for interesting ways to teach this lesson to others. When he was Little League baseball commissioner, he had some trouble recruiting volunteers to serve as umpires. It was a thankless job, of course, because parents who were unhappy with calls and were often vocal and unkind. Some of it had to do with fear, since little kids often flail wildly at the ball and an umpire is relatively unprotected.
To solve the problem, Pausch’s dad assigned older league players to umpire for the younger kids. It became an honor to serve in that position, and several things happened because of it. First, the student umpires gained an appreciation for how difficult a job it was and rarely ever argued with their own umpires. They also felt a sense of satisfaction that...
(The entire section is 452 words.)
Chapter 55 Summary
All You Have to Do Is Ask
During his dad’s last trip to Disney World, he is surprised. Pausch, his son Dylan, and his father are waiting to ride the monorail. Dylan is only four years old and wants to sit in the really cool nose-cone with the driver. Pausch’s dad is a theme park lover and thinks that would be a real treat as well. He is dismayed that regular people do not get to sit in such a special place. As an Imagineer, Pausch knows more about Disney than his father or his son, and he believes he knows the trick to make their wishes come true.
Pausch walks over to the monorail attendant and asks if the three of them can sit in the front car with the driver. The young man immediately agrees to let them do so and opens the gate for them. It is one of the only times in Pausch’s life that his father is at a loss for words. He teases his father, saying he told him there was a trick; he just did not say it was a difficult trick. Sometime all anyone has to do is ask. It has always been relatively easy for Pausch to ask for things. He is proud of the time he gathered his courage and contacted one of the most highly regarded computer scientists in the world, Fred Brooks Jr.
Brooks began his career in the fifties and eventually founded the computer science department at the University of North Carolina. He is famous in the industry for many sayings, including the idea that adding manpower to a late software project only does one thing—makes it even later. This principle is known as “Brooks Law.”
Pausch was in his late twenties and had still not met Brooks, so he e-mailed him and asked if the great man would be willing to meet with him for thirty minutes if he drove down from Virginia to North Carolina. The man graciously offered to give him more than thirty minutes if he was willing to drive such a long distance.
The two men talked for ninety minutes and Brooks became a mentor for life to Pausch. Years later, Brooks invites Pausch to give a lecture at the University of North Carolina; it is this event which leads to one of the most pivotal moments in the younger man’s life. At that lecture he meets Jai, his future wife.
Sometimes the simple act of asking can lead to dreams coming true. As his time on earth has become more finite, Pausch has gotten much better at asking. Waiting for medical results often takes many days; on his...
(The entire section is 501 words.)
Chapter 56 Summary
Make a Decision: Tigger or Eeyore
When Pausch tells Jared Cohen, Carnegie Mellon’s president, that he is going to give a last lecture, Cohen tells him to be sure to talk about having fun, because that is what he will most remember about Pausch. He agrees to do so but says it is one of those obvious things in life, like a fish talking about how important water is.
Pausch does not know how not to have fun. Even as he is dying, he is having fun, and he plans to keep doing so until the end of his life because there is no other option for him. He learned this very early in his life and sees it as a choice everyone must make. The two choices everyone has can be seen most obviously in two characters in A. A. Milne’s Winnie the Pooh. The first choice is the fun-loving, overly enthusiastic Tigger; the other option is the sad-sack Eeyore. Pausch has clearly made his choice: he is a Tigger.
On their last Halloween, Pausch has a terrific time. He and Jai, along with their three children, dress up as the Incredibles. Pausch posts a family photo on his website telling everyone how “incredible” his family is. The picture is great, and Pausch even makes a joke about his oversized cartoon muscles not being affected by his chemotherapy.
Recently Pausch went on a scuba diving vacation with three of his best friends: his college roommate Scott Sherman, his best friend from high school Jack Sheriff, and his friend from Electronic Arts, Steve Seabolt. Each of them understood that they represented the various stages of Pausch’s life and joined together to give him a farewell weekend. Pausch’s friends did not know one another very well, but it did not take long for them to feel a strong connection. They had a great time acting like teenagers, and all of them were Tiggers.
They did not spend time on any overly emotional conversations about loving their friend; instead they just had a fun time together. (Mostly the three spent time making fun of Pausch, who gained the reputation of being “St. Randy” after his lecture; they all knew him and knew how ridiculously misplaced that name was on him.)
Pausch simply refuses to be anything but a Tigger. When asked what he wants on his tombstone, he says he wants it to say he lived thirty years after a terminal diagnosis. If he had those thirty years, they would be full of fun; as it is, he packs as much fun as...
(The entire section is 443 words.)
Chapter 57 Summary
A Way to Understand Optimism
Right after Pausch was diagnosed with cancer, one of his doctors gave him an excellent piece of advice. He told Pausch it is important for him to behave as if he were going to be around for a while, something the dying man had already determined to do. Pausch joked that he just bought a new convertible and got a vasectomy and wonders what more he needs to do to prove he plans to live a rich and fulfilling life—short or not.
There is no chance that Pausch is in any kind of denial about his condition; on the contrary, he is well aware of the inevitable end which will come. While he is living as if he is dying, he is also living very much like he is still living. Some oncologists make appointments for their patients as far as six months in advance; this sends an optimistic message that the doctors and staff are confident they will be around at least that long. Many terminally ill patients see that appointment card and determine they will make it that far and, once they do, they will get good news about their prognoses.
One of Pausch’s doctors in Pittsburgh, Herbert Zeh, a surgeon, says he always worries about terminally ill patients who are too optimistic or too ill-informed. Conversely, he is unhappy to see patients who are told by their friends and acquaintances that if they are not optimistic their treatments will not work. It is painful for him to see patients who blame themselves for their ineffective treatments because they were not positive enough to somehow make their treatments work.
Pausch believes optimism is a mental state which can enable people to do tangible things to improve their physical conditions. An optimistic person is better equipped to deal with disappointments, to endure the brutalities of chemotherapy, and to keep searching for any late-breaking advances in the field of medicine.
Dr. Zeh believes Pausch has achieved the perfect balance between optimism and realism. He watches carefully and sees that Pausch tries to embrace his cancer as just another one of his life experiences. And those observations are correct. Pausch loves the fact that his vasectomy does double duty both as a birth control method and as a gesture of optimism about his future. While he loves driving around in his new convertible, he loves thinking that he may be the one guy in a million who might actually beat his late-stage cancer. But even if he...
(The entire section is 436 words.)
Chapter 58 Summary
The Input of Others
Since his last lecture, Pausch has heard from many people he has known over the years, and he is grateful for their words of kindness. A former colleague appreciates the advice Pausch once gave him about paying more attention to the “suggestions” of department heads, and a former student credits him with inspiring him to begin a personal-development website. And, to keep things in balance, he hears from a girl on whom he had an unrequited crush; she tells him (gently, of course) that he been too much of a nerd for her to date in high school and that she ended up marrying a real doctor.
More than anything, though, the messages are from strangers wishing him well, many of whom offer ideas on how to cope with death and dying. Most of their advice is for Jai, assuring her that it is possible to “survive the unimaginable” and reminding her that her children will be her best motivation to wake up each day and will offer her the best comfort. One woman tells Jai to accept any help she is offered both now and after her husband is gone; she also encourages her to tell the kids, after their father is gone, that they will have a normal life despite their father’s untimely death.
One man tells Pausch about an Indian spiritual advisor named Krishnamurti who was asked the best thing to say to a dying man. Krishnamurti said that when his friend dies a part of him will die with him, and that means he will never be alone. After an interview, Diane Sawyer tells Pausch to be sure to tell his children about the specific idiosyncrasies which he finds so endearing about each of them, and he has followed her advice. For most of his life, Pausch doubted the efficacy of counseling; however, he now benefits from the opportunity to talk with an objective third party.
Finally, a lot of people have written to Randy about spiritual matters and faith. While he deliberately avoided anything religious in his lecture to make it more universal, Pausch does have his own faith. His minster, M. R. Kelsey, has been very helpful in helping him leave a legacy of love, “emotional insurance” for when he eventually leaves. He recommends Pausch make lots of videotapes of himself with his children, so they will one day see how much they laughed and played together and how comfortable they were with one another. The minister also gives Pausch some specific ways he can make sure...
(The entire section is 502 words.)
Chapter 59 Summary
Dreams for My Children
A few months before the worst is to come, Pausch still appears healthy. The kids do not know their father is sick, and yet he must find ways to make sure they know who he is and what he believes in despite their young ages. Though he knows he will miss all the major growing-up events of his children’s lives, his heart hurts more when he thinks of his children growing up without a father. While he grieves his own losses, he grieves more for theirs.
He wants all their memories of time spent with him to be sharp, clear, and unforgettable rather than fuzzy and forgettable. He wants his daughter Chloe to know he was the first man who ever fell in love with her. Jai is modest and will never tell her children about all the sacrifices she made, taking care of three young kids and a husband with terminal cancer. Pausch wants them to know how selfless their mother was in caring for all of them.
Pausch begins talking to people who lost their parents when they were very young; he wants to know what they held on to during the difficult times and what kinds of keepsakes they have found most meaningful. The most important thing, they tell him, is knowing how much both of their parents loved them. The more they know of that love, the more they continue feeling it. These children also want reasons to be proud of their parents; they yearn to know what made their parents special. They were happy to think that their parents died with happy memories of them, as well.
Pausch loves so many things about each of his children. Dylan is loving and empathetic, but he is also analytical and curious about the world around him. Logan makes life an adventure; he is energetic and gregarious. Chloe is “all girl,” and what Pausch feels for her is different from what he feels for his sons. Without trying, she has enchanted her father. He loves each of them differently but completely, and he wants them to know he will love them as long as they are alive.
Because he has spent so much time talking about childhood dreams, people have asked Pausch what dreams he has for his children, He has a specific answer. As a teacher, he sees many students following a path their parents want for them, and the result is often disastrous. He believes his job as a parent is to help them develop the tools for whatever their dreams are, so his dreams for them are precise: he wants each of...
(The entire section is 499 words.)
Chapter 60 Summary
Jai and Me
In a family with cancer, the caregiver is generally forced into the background while the patient is allowed to focus on himself and receive the adulation and sympathy of others. Jai has a cancer patient and three little kids, and Pausch decides he will use a few moments of his last lecture to show everyone how much he appreciates his wife.
Near the end of his lecture, Pausch talks about how vital it is to focus on other people, not just himself. He looks offstage and asks someone in the wings to bring in the tangible example of his point. Jai’s birthday was the day before, so he has arranged for her friend to wheel a large birthday cake onto the stage. He explains to the audience that he thought it would be nice if he asked four hundred people to sing happy birthday to Jai. It is a beautiful moment, and Jai is visibly moved.
Though he and Jai have a lot of preparing to do, he considers himself fortunate to have the time to prepare. They talk about things that Jai will need to remember when he is gone. One of them is to take time to rejuvenate herself so she will be strong and healthy enough to help her children. Pausch also hopes Jai will give herself permission to fail, as she will inevitably do. Mistakes are just part of parenting.
Single parents often try to compensate for the missing parent, and he is hopeful Jai will not feel the pressure to do that. He is sorry he will not be there to live through the most difficult teenage years with her, but he reminds her that she has family and friends to whom she can turn for help. Jai must always be looking for the mentors who will help the children become better adults. And, if she chooses to remarry, if it makes her happy, he wants that for her.
They have worked hard for eight years, creating a partnership and a marriage based on love and communication. Though they have done remarkably well since his diagnosis, they have had some difficult times. They have made it through those times by focusing on the immediate task ahead of them.
Finding the perfect gift for a final birthday is difficult. Jai got him a watch and a big-screen TV. Though he does not watch much television now, the day will come when he will be trapped in bed and will need a link to the world outside of his bedroom. Jai will be and do what she must, and she will do it well.
After the crowd finished singing to his...
(The entire section is 499 words.)
Chapter 61 Summary
The Dreams Will Come to You
Days before his last lecture, Pausch is worried about making it through the final lines of his talk without getting too emotional, so he makes a contingency plan. The last few sentences of his speech are written on four slides. If, at the final moment, he cannot speak them, he will simply show the slides and thank his audience for coming.
He has been on stage for just over an hour, and he is exhausted from the chemo, from the long stretch of standing, and from the emotional energy he has spent. At the same time he is content, satisfied, and fulfilled. His life has come full circle; the list of childhood dreams he made at eight years old helped him frame his final thoughts, thirty-eight years later.
Some cancer patients are thankful for the disease, but Pausch is not one of them. He is, however, thankful for the advance notice he has been given so he can make preparations for his family and say the things he wants to make sure get said. Having his list helps him remember to thank everyone who helped him accomplish his goals and dreams. He now understands what other people have said at times, that there is something inside him which he desperately needed to come out; his last lecture was not a luxury, it was a necessity for him.
His closing lines are emotional because they are a distillation of how he feels about facing the end of his life. Towards the end, he reviews several of the key points of his lecture and then offers a summary with a twist. He reminds the audience that he spoke about childhood dreams, but he wonders if they have figured out his “head fake.” The room is quiet, and he tells them it is not about how to achieve one’s childhood dreams but how to live one’s life. If they live their lives well, their dreams will come to them.
He clicks the last few slides as he speaks. Pausch begins to get emotional as he asks if the audience has figured out the second head fake. He tells them this lecture was not just for them: it was for his kids. Then he clicks to the final slide, a photo of him standing next to their swing set. He has a smiling Logan in one arm and his sweet Chloe on the other as Dylan sits happily on his shoulders.
(The entire section is 415 words.)