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 whether they win or lose but how they “play the cliché.”