Professor’s ‘Last Lecture’ A Hit All Over the World

When Randy Pausch died last month of pancreatic cancer, he had already touched the lives of millions all over the world. The computer science professor did it with a speech he gave at the university where he taught. It is now one of the most popular hits on the internet. Pat Hernandez has the story.

A month after doctors gave him the grim news, Pausch delivered his heartfelt public talk at Carnegie Mellon University. But it wasn’t about dying.

“If I don’t seem as depressed or morose as I should be, uh sorry to disappoint you. (laughter).”

He shared his insights in a book called “The Last Lecture”. He co-wrote it with “Wall Street Journal” columnist Jeff Zaslow, who was in the audience that afternoon.

“I never thought when I was doing it, oh this is a book, where this man is gonna take off all around the world. In fact, I saw on the sidewalk after the lecture and his plan was just to go home and spend whatever time he had left with his wife and kids. He thought he’d said all he had to say to his friends and colleagues in that room, and that was it. But at the “Wall Street Journal,” we had done a little five minute highlight clip of the lecture. So we posted that on our web site and by ten o’clock the next morning it had spread to dozens of sites, then hundreds, then thousands. Now, millions of people all over the world have seen it.”

He says Pausch had hoped a video recording of his lecture would be made for his children after he was gone, and that was it.

“He didn’t even want to write the book. For about five weeks, it took him that long to figure out: do I want to even do this book or, do I want to just spend whatever time I have left with my wife and kids, and he finally hit on a way to get the book done which was, he had to exercise every day for an hour. So, he would ride his bike around his neighborhood for an hour a day. He had a cell phone headset, and he said, well, I’ll talk to you on my cell phone headset everyday. We did that for 53 days. So, that became the guts of the book, was those 53 conversations. It was almost like getting 53 extra lectures.”

The speech was about the importance of overcoming obstacles and of seizing every moment. Zaslow says he quickly realized that there was nothing fake about the man.

“People who knew him before he was famous, and before he was sick, would say ‘If they had to pick one person who could touch the world, it was Randy’. He just had this personality that made people, women loved him. He would smile at women, they would melt. Men wanted to be his friend I mean, he was arrogant. He said it himself. He was a recovering jerk is how Randy described himself.”

He says people took it upon themselves to translate his lecture into other languages, which humbled Pausch.

Once we started working on the book, we realized his audience had grown. He had been on the “Oprah Winfrey Show,” he had been on “Good Morning America,” the talk was going all around the world. So I guess, once we began writing the book, we had in mind the larger audience. But as Randy would say, he was most moved by the idea that the first three copies would go to his kids.”

The book, “The Last Lecture,” is now printed in 33-languages around the world.

Pat Hernandez, KUHF…Houston Public Radio News.