Life, Death and Meaning: The Last Lecture

A Tigger or an Eeyore

Tania Allen

BLS 360 – Life, Death and Meaning

Randy Pauch was a professor at Carnegie Mellon University, with a PhD in computer science, who was known for his work in the virtual reality field. He addressed an audience at Carnegie Mellon on September 18, 2007 to deliver his Last Lecture. This was not an uncommon thing, as the university had already continued a tradition of professors offering a final lecture, what they then called their “Journeys” series of lectures. This lecture, we would find, was different.

Pauch’s Last Lecture was entitled “Really Achieving Your Childhood Dreams”, but what we learn at the end was the intention was in fact to teach people how to live their lives, how to have happy and meaningful lives – specifically Pauch’s children, but the lesson applies to all people. Though he was dying of terminal cancer, Pauch did not want to focus on his disease, and did not seem to focus on directly expressing the legacy he would leave behind. Of course he touched on that a few times, but mostly his lecture focused on leaving a legacy in a more general sense, as something all people should strive for, and in doing so offered suggestions as to how to leave a lasting legacy.

Some of the lessons Pauch offers through his Last Lecture are fairly simple in concept, but carry great meaning. He advises his audience to ‘never lose the childlike wonder’ in the world, to always ‘help others’, to ‘show gratitude’ when it is due, to always ‘find the best in everybody’. He was a strong advocate in realizing childhood dreams and in helping others do the same. This was his outlook on life, but it’s important to note that these things are what Pauch felt made a life meaningful. The lecture was not objective, it was focused on him, on what he learned, and on what he wanted others to take away from the lecture; it was also, as we later learn, not really for the audience at Carnegie Mellon at all, but for his children.

Being an educator clearly came natural to him, because it gave him the opportunity to always help others, and to find the best in them. The projects he undertook, such as working at Disney’s Imagineering Studios, and developing projects like his Building Virtual Worlds course, the Entertainment Technology Center master’s program, and the Alice software project, were aimed at encouraging his students to learn without realizing they were learning, which becomes the core of the entire lecture. Pauch calls this the ‘head fake’, or indirect learning.

David Schmidtz said something in his essay The Meanings of Life; “People who know they are terminally ill often seem to live life more meaningfully. Though dying, they somehow are more alive.”[1]  This one statement certainly describes Randy Pauch and the outlook he shows in his Last Lecture.  He describes himself as ‘a Tigger’ – “I don’t know how to not have fun” Pauch says. His advice to his audience is to decide “if you’re a Tigger or an Eeyore.” What he doesn’t say, but perhaps implies, is that living a meaningful life involves being a Tigger, and not an Eeyore. Pauch exhibits what Schmidtz says about the terminally ill. He simply is more alive than the rest of us.

In a television special with Diane Sawyer[2], Pauch says of his lecture “Don’t tell people how to live their lives. Just tell them stories, and they’ll figure out how the stories apply to them.” This is the “head fake” Pauch talks about throughout the lecture.  His Last Lecture appears on the surface to be little more than a series of stories, anecdotes about his life, and the lessons he learned from them.  Under that veneer however it is a lesson, a very important one. Pauch uses his Last Lecture to impart a lesson to his audience, and in the end to anyone who would later view the video or read the book. Randy Pauch’s lesson to us all is how to live a life that is meaningful, by always striving to realize childhood dreams, helping others to do the same, by showing gratitude when it’s deserved, by seeking to find the best in others no matter how long it takes, by realizing that the walls that separate us from our dreams are there not to stop us, but to allow us to show how badly we want them.

[1] “The Meanings of Life” David Schmidtz 96

[2] “Randy Pausch ABC Special about the “Last Lecture”, April 2008” Diane Sawyer,  Randy & Jai Pauch


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