Randy Pausch's memoir, based on his inspiring last lecture as a professor, instantly became a huge hit when it touched the hearts of people everywhere. Students will be in awe of Pausch's determination, resilience, and ability to remain humorous and lighthearted despite his bleak prognosis. His zest for life and his advice on following childhood dreams will encourage and enlighten students. The Last Lecture is a great choice for a non-fiction read in the classroom that will interest and entertain students, as well as motivate them to live their lives to the fullest. The text could be particularly inspirational if taught in the context of a public speaking course or activity, as Pausch's own eloquence and poise as a lecturer is quite admirable.

While Pausch claims that his lecture and memoir were solely intended to teach his children important life lessons after he passed, his uplifting, positive attitude has clearly impacted people across the world.

The book can also be easily paired with a viewing of the video of his lecture, which is available for free online. A stimulating discussion could include an examination of the differences and similarities in the way the lecture is presented in both mediums.

Summary

A computer science professor at Carnegie Mellon University, Pausch delivered his last lecture, titled "Really Achieving Your Childhood Dreams," on September 18, 2007. His lecture was modeled after a series in which professors gave hypothetical final talks about what matters most to them, but Pausch's last lecture turned out to be literal. A month prior, he had found out that his pancreatic cancer was terminal. With the help of Wall Street Journal columnist Jeffrey Zaslow, Pausch wrote The Last Lecture, which includes stories from the late professor's childhood and the lessons he wanted to pass on to his own children—essentially, everything he wanted his family to know after cancer had taken his life.

Objectives for Teaching
The Last Lecture

  • Identify the author's purpose for writing a memoir.
  • Recognize literary devices used, including allegory, symbolism, and irony.
  • Identify various themes throughout the text and trace how they are developed and expanded upon.
  • Discuss why the themes of the text resonate with people.
  • Find similarities and differences between the text and the video of the actual lecture.
  • Challenge students to reflect upon their own family and dreams.

Key Elements and Techniques

  • Allegory
  • Anecdotes
  • Aphorism
  • Flashback
  • Irony
  • Memoir
  • Symbolism

Themes and Motifs

  • Dreams — Pausch strongly advocates for the pursuit of childhood dreams throughout The Last Lecture. Everyone must “grow up” eventually, but a person should never abandon or forget the aspirations he or she had had during childhood.
  • Perseverance — Even in the face of tremendous adversity, it is more rewarding to push forward and work hard than it is to complain and give up.
  • Mortality —  The imminence of death and the awareness of mortality can change a person’s entire outlook on life. Enduring such a hardship can lead to a sense of enlightenment, and it is important to pass that wisdom onto others, so that even the most unbearable struggles in life will have a meaningful purpose to them.

Related Works

Theme of Dreams

 

Theme of Perseverance

 

Themes of Mortality

Key Facts

  • Length: 224 pages
  • Publication Date: 2008
  • Recommended Grade Band: 9 – 12

Awards

  • New York Times bestseller (2008)
  • Books for a Better Life award winner (2008)

Movies

Speculation that the book would be turned into a movie was debunked by Pausch, who insisted that the videos of the lecture were sufficient in telling his story.

Your students will love:

  • Feeling inspired and motivated by the book
  • Being able to actually watch Pausch's lecture on video

Students may have problems with:

  • A unique point of view that they can't necessarily relate to directly
  • Non-fictional texts sometimes bore students, as those works are often considered not as imaginative or creative as fictional works are.

More Teacher's Guides to Literature:

See all our Teacher's Guides to Literature here.