Lectures for a New Year: The Last Lecture, First


For the month of January I'll bring you one lecture every (week)day, touching on exciting topics such as: science, literature, history, art, design, ecology, neurology, computers, and a grab-bag of other wonders! I've always loved a good lecture -- it's the essence of geeking out on a topic. (And believe me, I hate bad lectures -- interminable mumbling and boring stuff is not tolerated. You will be spared the boring stuff.) For this series, expect lectures that are fun, interesting, and genuinely educational. You'll need to devote an hour to them on occasion, but that's what your Bookmark button is for. Maybe you'll enjoy spending your lunch or dinner hour watching a free lecture with me?

To kick off the series, I've selected a lecture that's deeply inspirational and a little heartbreaking. On September 18, 2007, Carnegie Mellon Computer Science professor Randy Pausch delivered his now-famous "last lecture": he had been diagnosed with pancreatic cancer late in 2006, and by 2007 had little time left to live. In his final months, Pausch redoubled his commitment to education, most notably with this hour-and-fifteen-minute talk now known as "The Last Lecture." (For the record, this was part of a Carnegie Mellon series of "last lectures" in which speakers imparted wisdom as if this lecture were their last. Pausch was the only lecturer who was actually terminally ill; the full title of his lecture was "Really Achieving Your Childhood Dreams"). After this lecture, Pausch wrote a book based on the lecture, and it went on to become a bestseller in early 2008. Pausch died later that year. This lecture has been viewed at least 14 million times -- won't you have a look?

Topics: growing up, having dreams, football, Captain Kirk, virtual reality, space, engineering, learning, collaboration, life lessons, and hope.

Not covered: spirituality, religion, sadness.

For: everyone. Pausch intended it to be a legacy for his kids, so its appeal is broad. Sensitive viewers may tear up a little at the beginning or end; the great bulk of the talk is very upbeat and full of jokes.

Further Reading

Check out Pausch's website, preserved as it was when he died. Also see the Carnegie Mellon page about Pausch and his lecture. Although I haven't read it, Pausch's book The Last Lecture will likely be of interest; it's available at your library, from Amazon, and as an ebook. If you've read the book, tell us more in the comments about what it's like.


A PDF transcript of Pausch's lecture is available from CMU. The YouTube video also has good Closed Captions (hit the CC button to enable them).

Suggest a Lecture

Got a favorite lecture? Is it online in some video format? Leave a comment and we'll check it out!