Last Lecture Before New Beginning

Provost inspires graduates with a tribute to the author chosen for Freshmen Year Experience 2012.

Provost James J. Woolever shares a motivating speech about making dreams become reality.

December 14, 2012

Randy Pausch’s book, The Last Lecture was sent to Menlo College’s new freshmen class during Summer 2012 as part of Menlo College’s Freshman Year Experience. At the beginning of the semester, the incoming class was asked to write a ‘first lecture,’ to the Menlo community. The book and student essays were used as a springboard for classroom discussion. [See the Menlo Advantage Fall 2012 issue for a story on page 23 about the Freshman Year Experience by Dr. Marilyn Thomas, Dean of Arts and Science.]

At a reception in December to honor undergraduate degree candidates, Provost James J. Woolever shared a motivating speech about making dreams become reality. The following excerpted version of the Provost’s speech is about the late Randy Pausch, former professor at Carnegie Mellon University, whose inspirational persistence and determination helped him attain his dreams.

At his last public lecture, Dr. Pausch began his remarks by quoting his father: “whenever there is an elephant in the room you need to acknowledge the creature.” And so the first slide presented to the audience was a CAT scan of Randy Pausch‘s pancreas that revealed highly aggressive malignant tumors in his internal organs.  In 2007, after he was told he had only a few months to live, this young husband and father took the stage and set the parameters of his “last lecture.”

The “last lecture” focused on helping the audience achieve their childhood dreams.  The lecture began with a slide identifying some childhood dreams – little did Dr. Pausch realize that he was following the management guru, Peter Drucker’s first commandment for aspiring entrepreneurs: “For dreams to become a reality – they need to be written down.” The first step for making your dreams come alive is to write them down so you can review them periodically.

Pausch began by stating that you classify your dreams into two broad categories: ones that can actually happen and ones that remain in the realm of one’s active imagination. In his case he identified two dreams that just were never going to happen. Number 1 impossible dream: playing football in the NFL. You see, Dr. Pausch weighed no more than 160 lbs and playing linebacker for the Pittsburgh Steelers was not going to happen. His other “impossible” dream was to be, literally, Captain James Kirk of the starship Enterprise of the Star Trek television series.

The next set of dreams are the achievable ones – provided you are willing to put your energy, intellect, desire, and passion into overcoming the walls that separate us from achieving our dreams.

Two pertinent examples from his life: when he graduated from Brown University, Pausch’s advisor encouraged him to apply to Carnegie Mellon’s Ph.D. program in computer science.  He applied and was rejected. He applied to other universities and was accepted, but in his heart he wanted to go to Carnegie Mellon. How does one get into Carnegie Mellon after one has been rejected? His solution: go to Pittsburgh, meet with the Dean and faculty to convince them that they need Randy Pausch in their graduate program. For two days he met with the key players and convinced them that Carnegie Mellon would be short-changing itself without him. The outcome: he was accepted into the university. In time, Randy Pausch graduated from Carnegie Mellon with his doctorate.

The second example is Randy Pausch’s big dream – the one that he had dreamed of since his early childhood—working for Walt Disney’s Imagineering/Virtual Reality department. He called a head honcho at Disney and offered to take him to lunch.  From that conversation, came the opportunity to spend a sabbatical year at the Disney labs, and eventually the offer of a full-time position at Disney. Pausch admits that although the job offer was tempting, his heart was in the classroom inspiring the next generation of virtual reality stars – one of whom is now a key leader at Lucas Light & Sound in Marin.

Sadly, Randy Pausch died on July 25, 2008 leaving his wife and three small children. During the last months of his life, a colleague helped him organize his lecture notes into a book, aptly entitled The Last Lecture. This book is now the most commonly used text on college campuses for their freshmen experience and was the text read by this year’s freshmen class at Menlo.

Tonight, we celebrate with undergraduate degree candidates the accomplishment of graduating with a college degree. Bravo! Chalk one dream up as successfully completed! Somewhere deep inside you is that next dream – have you taken Peter Drucker’s advice and written it down for posterity sake? If not – why not?

It is our hope that you will make your next set of dreams a reality and that your life is filled with happiness, health, and much prosperity. And do not forget where your college degree came to fruition: Menlo College. Go Oaks!