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 appreciate Pausch’s determination, resilience, and ability to remain humorous and lighthearted despite his bleak prognosis. While Pausch claims that his lecture and memoir were intended solely to teach his children important life lessons, his uplifting insight has clearly affected a much larger audience.

The Last Lecture would be an exceptional addition to your syllabus because of its high-interest, relatable content, which you can use to your advantage when tackling literary elements. Through this memoir, you can guide your students as they explore themes of positivity, teaching and learning, and obstacles as opportunities. For a lesson on symbolism, you can focus on Pausch’s concepts—the “brick wall” he imagines when an obstacle arises, or “head fake,” a strategy in which a person thinks he is learning about one thing, but is actually learning about another. And let’s not forget tone and mood—allow your students to think about what Pausch wants his audience to feel and how he evokes those emotions.

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. To add even more depth, you might consider combining a study of The Last Lecture with a public speaking or creative writing activity: Show your students they can be inspiring, too!

Summary of The Last Lecture

Key Facts

  • Length: 224 pages
  • Publication Date: 2008
  • Recommended Grade Brand: 9-12
  • New York Times Best seller (2008)
  • 2008 Books for a Better Life Award Winner

Professor Randy Pausch delivered his last lecture, “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 mattered most to them, but Pausch’s last lecture really was his last. 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 hoped to pass on to his own children.

What Your Students Will Love About The Last Lecture

  • Feeling inspired, motivated, and moved
  • Emotional narratives infused with humor

Potential Student Struggles With The Last Lecture

  • Students might find the subject of cancer emotionally difficult, especially if they have had a personal experience with it.
  • Nonfictional text might be difficult for some students who are accustomed to parsing traditional fiction.

Learning 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.
  • Discuss why the themes of the text resonate with people.
  • Compare the text with the video of the actual lecture.
  • Reflect upon family, circumstances, and dreams.

Literary Elements in The Last Lecture

  • Allegory
  • Anecdote
  • Aphorism
  • Flashback
  • Irony
  • Memoir
  • Symbolism
  • Theme

Major Themes in The Last Lecture

Dreams — Pausch strongly advocates for the pursuit of childhood dreams throughout The Last Lecture. Everyone must grow up eventually, but no one should never abandon or forget his or her childhood aspirations.

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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.

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Mortality — The imminence of death and the awareness of mortality can change a person’s entire outlook on life. Enduring these perils can lead to a sense of enlightenment, and it is important to share that wisdom with others.

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Other Resources for The Last Lecture