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Last Lecture

Megan Finneran | Wednesday, December 8, 2010

“What wisdom would we impart to the world if we knew it was our last chance? If we had to vanish tomorrow, what would we want as our legacy?” I found these questions in Randy Pausch’s “The Last Lecture,” perhaps the first assigned book I have read cover-to-cover in the past six years.

For those of you who do not know his message, I highly recommend it. Pausch, a computer science professor at Carnegie Mellon, gives his final lecture with only months left to live after a terminal diagnosis of pancreatic cancer. In it he talks about the importance of pursuing childhood dreams, from his of playing in the NFL (which he never quite reached) to being Captain James T. Kirk from Star Trek (which he sort of did).

Reading it made me think of my childhood dreams, tracing back to my three-year-old fantasy of working at the dry-cleaner down the street and my secret hope that the nice Chinese owners would adopt me. A year later I expanded slightly, when at the age of four I wanted only the most fascinating job ever: to bag groceries at Dominik’s. I went to Disney World when I turned eight and aspired be Cinderella, a dream I now see slipping away quickly with Prince William’s pending wedding to Kate Middleton.

Perhaps my favorite part of the book was a chapter entitled “Make a Decision: Tigger or Eeyore.” As Pausch reminded me, Tigger is the ultimate upbeat cheerleader, a guy who is always up for a good time. Eeyore, on the other hand, never seems to be able to find happiness. “Each of us must decide: Am I a fun-loving Tigger or am I a sad-sack Eeyore? Pick a camp,” wrote Pausch. With winter definitely here and finals looming, Eeyore is an easy persona to adopt. Exams make “The Most Wonderful Time of the Year” seem as mystical as Santa’s reindeer, but that is no reason to give up on smiling. Even with the knowledge that he had only months left to live, Pausch still lived every day striving to be a Tigger.

While embodying Tigger does not mean forget about reality, it certainly should act as encouragement to pursue happiness. Do not burn your books, go sky-diving, blow all your money and move to Australia as if you will die tomorrow, but do not shut yourself up in a cubicle on the eighth floor of the library for more than six hours at a time (I am currently on hour number four). “Time is all you have,” Pausch wrote. “And you may find one day that you have less than you think.”

It should not take any of us a terminal illness to appreciate life and all it offers. Every night my roommate and I identify the highlight of our day, which helps to find the silver lining in even the most dreadful days. I challenge you to do the same, and even better, try to be the highlight of someone else’s.


The views expressed in the Inside Column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.

Contact Megan Finneran at [email protected]