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.