The Last Lecture

The Last Lecture

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Attitude and Positive Behavior Theme Analysis

Themes and Colors
Dreams in Reality Theme Icon
Teaching, Learning, and Feedback Loops Theme Icon
Obstacles as Opportunities Theme Icon
Attitude and Positive Behavior Theme Icon
Entitlement vs. Earning Theme Icon
LitCharts assigns a color and icon to each theme in The Last Lecture, which you can use to track the themes throughout the work.
Attitude and Positive Behavior Theme Icon

In The Last Lecture, Randy admits that his attitude can’t change the facts of the world around him, but he argues that it can change how he reacts to and interacts with the rest of the world, which positively affects how the world reacts to him.

Randy uses a story about Disney World, one of his favorite places, to illustrate his point. When he was 12, Randy and his sister bought a $10 salt-and-pepper shaker at Disney for their parents. When Randy accidentally broke it, they returned to the store and the shop workers quickly replaced it at no charge. This positive experience led Randy and his family to return to Disney so many times that they ended up spending more than $100,000 at Disney throughout their lives: his parents even made trips to Disney an integral part of their volunteer work. If the attitude of the Disney World employees had been more negative, it could have cost the company life-long customers.

Randy relates the Disney staff’s behavior to Disney’s policy on answering the question “When does the park close?”—staff are required to respond that the park is “open” until eight P.M., which re-directs the focus from the negative (closing) to the positive (how long the park is open). Thus, Randy lives his life, even while dying, as if he is open until the end, rather than closing down prematurely. This allows him to fully enjoy the time he has left.

But Randy goes even further, making the case that by acting positively—by controlling your attitude and behavior—you actually can sometimes change the facts. Put another way, Randy believes that by behaving positively and generously, you are more likely get good things in return. For instance, Randy tells a story about reviewing a young woman’s application to Carnegie Mellon. He is about to reject her until he discovers a single handwritten thank-you note addressed to an employee with no power over her admission. This note leads Randy to accept her, because the fact that she took the time to write it teaches him more about her personality than anything else in her file.

And so, while Randy knows his attitude can’t make his cancer go away, he also knows that panicking and succumbing to fear and anger will only diminish what remains of his life. Randy decides to die as he lives—an optimistic, practical, mostly happy, hard-working person, who deals with every obstacle as it comes.

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Attitude and Positive Behavior Quotes in The Last Lecture

Below you will find the important quotes in The Last Lecture related to the theme of Attitude and Positive Behavior.
Introduction Quotes

Under the ruse of giving an academic lecture, I was trying to put myself in a bottle that would one day wash up on the beach for my children.

Related Characters: Randy Pausch (speaker), Dylan, Logan, Chloe
Related Symbols: The Head Fake
Page Number: xiv
Explanation and Analysis:

This quote occurs in the first passage that Randy writes in the book, right after Jai’s foreword. It tips readers off to the fundamental head fake that underscores the entire narrative of The Last Lecture—that, though Randy’s lecture is supposedly about achieving your dreams (and thus how to lead your life), the deeper purpose of his book is to leave a piece of himself—of his beliefs, ideas, and personality—behind for his young children to remember him by. The notion of teaching one thing (like how to achieve your dreams) in order to actually teach another thing (like telling his children who he was and what he cared about) will recur throughout the book. This is also an example of another trick that Randy consistently teaches: using obstacles as opportunities. Randy uses the horrid obstacle of his impending death as an opportunity to do as much as he possibly can to leave behind remnants of himself for his children (and anyone else) to find.

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…engineering isn’t about perfect solutions; it’s about doing the best you can with limited resources. Both the lecture and this book are my attempts to do exactly that.

Related Characters: Randy Pausch (speaker)
Page Number: xiv
Explanation and Analysis:

Doing the best you can, being practical, and having a positive attitude (no matter the cards life deals you) are fundamental, Randy believes, to a well-lived life. Randy always views life as a scientist and engineer, and so, when he finds out that his cancer diagnosis is terminal, he vows to do as much as possible to leave behind an imprint of himself for his children (and for the rest of the world, too). This book and the video recording of Randy’s last lecture serve as those imprints, which his children should be able to access through their whole lives. Though this won’t replace him in their lives, Randy’s statement that “engineering isn’t about perfect solutions” reminds readers that the book and lecture are the best he can do. They will serve as a corrective to Randy’s kids’ fuzzy memories when he’s gone, and the act of writing a book and creating a lecture are a reason for him to stay sharp and engaged while he is alive.

Chapter 1 Quotes

…all of the things I loved were rooted in the dreams and goals I had as a child… despite the cancer, I truly believed I was a lucky man because I had lived out these dreams. And I had lived out my dreams, in great measure, because of things I was taught by all sorts of extraordinary people along the way. If I was able to tell my story with passion, I felt, my lecture might help others find a path to fulfilling their own dreams.

Related Characters: Randy Pausch (speaker)
Page Number: 10
Explanation and Analysis:

This quote occurs soon after Randy has been told that his cancer is terminal and he is prompted by organizers at Carnegie Mellon to give a title and topic for his last lecture. Forced to confront what matters most to him, Randy lands on the topic of childhood dreams, since many of his accomplishments are rooted in his childhood hopes.

Also, rather than focus on the negative aspects of his cancer, Randy spins it in a positive light and sees himself as lucky because his last lecture has the potential to “help others find a path to fulfilling their own dreams.” Randy also feels lucky to able to show gratitude towards many mentors in his life through his last lecture, using their stories and feedback to, in turn, teach others the many lessons Randy learned throughout his life. This makes his lecture into a kind of feedback loop for the reader/viewer in which the reader/viewer uses Randy’s advice and beliefs to take a hard look at the way in which they’re living their own lives.

Chapter 4 Quotes

…kids—more than anything else—need to know their parents love them. Their parents don’t have to be alive for that to happen.

Related Characters: Randy Pausch (speaker), Randy’s Dad, Dylan, Logan, Chloe
Page Number: 26
Explanation and Analysis:

This quote occurs after Randy discusses his circumstances and mindset when he began his last lecture. While it seems that this quote refers to Randy’s relationship with his own children (he wants them to know that he loves them, even though he won’t be alive to tell then), Randy then takes a step back to discuss his own lower middle-class childhood, indicating that he is also talking about how he knows his father loves him, even though his father is no longer alive to tell him so. Randy feels his parents’ love, in part, because he recognizes how lucky he is to have had parents who allowed him to dream, but were also honest with him and didn’t coddle him. In the end, Randy loops back around to his own children, and he says that he believes his dad would have approved of the ways that Randy is being proactive and positive in the wake of his impending death. Randy is doing everything he possibly can to leave behind messages to his wife and kids that he loves them and wants desperately to shape their lives.

Chapter 6 Quotes

Have something to bring to the table, because that will make you more welcome.

Related Characters: Randy Pausch (speaker)
Related Symbols: Brick Walls
Page Number: 33
Explanation and Analysis:

This quote occurs after Randy has told the audience, “It’s important to have specific dreams.” What he means is that, as a kid obsessed with science, Randy didn’t want to be a NASA astronaut because he knew his glasses prohibited him from interstellar travel; instead, Randy simply dreamed of being able to float in zero gravity, which is a more achievable dream that he fulfills when a research team of his wins a competition to do experiments in one of NASA’s zero gravity acclimation planes.

However, Randy finds out that only the students, and not their chaperone, are allowed to ride in the zero gravity plane. Never one to let a brick wall stop him, Randy combs through the contract for loopholes, and finds one: an adult journalist can accompany the students into the machine. So, Randy calls NASA, faxes them the paperwork to apply as a journalist, and though they find his efforts “transparent,” Randy convinces them that he will use his actual connections to journalists to get the story of his team’s visit to NASA published in the press. NASA agrees, and Randy is able to earn his way to achieving his dream by being hard-working, optimistic, and not giving up until he gets what he wants. Randy’s point in this quote, though, is that simply asking for the thing you want without being able offer something in return can be ineffective and, at worst, entitled. By pointing to his genuine media connections, Randy is able to offer something in return for NASA helping him achieve his dream, which makes him a more welcome guest at NASA.

Chapter 7 Quotes

…even though I did not reach the National Football League, I sometimes think I got more from pursuing that dream, and not accomplishing it, than I did from many of the ones I did accomplish.

Related Characters: Randy Pausch (speaker), Coach Jim Graham
Related Symbols: The Head Fake
Page Number: 35
Explanation and Analysis:

How you perceive failure is all about attitude: you can view it as a negative or as a positive learning experience, and the latter is how Randy chooses to view the fact that he did not make the NFL. This quote occurs after Randy discusses his deep love of tackle football, which began during his formative experiences playing peewee football under the tutelage of Coach Jim Graham, an old-school strict disciplinarian who believed in hard work and learning the fundamentals.

Randy isn’t a good enough football player to play professionally, but his experiences on the football team taught him valuable life lessons that he passes down to his students, children and readers. Those lessons include that you can’t teach self-esteem (you can only build it through hard work), and, most importantly, the idea of the “head fake,” which is that you can think you’re learning one thing (like how to play football) while you’re really learning something far more important (like how to work with others, sportsmanship, perseverance, etc.). Randy applies the idea of the head fake to many aspects of his life, including the construction of this book and his last lecture.

“When you’re screwing up and nobody says anything to you anymore, that means they’ve given up on you.”

Related Characters: Assistant Coach (speaker), Randy Pausch, Coach Jim Graham
Page Number: 37
Explanation and Analysis:

This quote occurs after Coach Graham rides Randy particularly hard after one football practice, making him stay to do drills after the official practice has ended. Getting chewed out by a mentor (especially one that you deeply respect) is never a fun experience, but this Assistant Coach does Randy a huge favor, in that he advises Randy to change his perspective on the situation. Rather than being upset at how hard Coach Graham was being on Randy, the Assistant Coach shifts things into a more positive light by explaining that Coach Graham was only being tough with Randy because he believed Randy could do better. In other words, nobody wastes their time trying to help a lost cause, and Coach Graham’s criticism actually meant that Randy had potential. We could all be better off if we shifted our attitudes towards constructive criticism from defensive to receptive. Carefully considering criticism and trying to address it in our future attitudes and behavior is one of the main ways we are able to improve as people.

Chapter 9 Quotes

…I was hugely impressed. Kirk, I mean, Shatner, was the ultimate example of a man who knew what he didn’t know, was perfectly willing to admit it, and didn’t want to leave until he understood. That’s heroic to me. I wish every grad student had that attitude.

Related Characters: Randy Pausch (speaker), William Shatner
Page Number: 45
Explanation and Analysis:

This quote occurs after Randy explains that, since he was a huge Star Trek fan as a kid, one of his childhood dreams was to be Captain Kirk (not Randy Pausch as captain of the Enterprise—literally to be Captain Kirk himself). Though Randy obviously could never become Captain Kirk, he does get the opportunity to meet the man who portrayed Kirk on T.V., actor William Shatner, who visits Randy’s lab to ask questions in relation to a book about scientific breakthroughs that were foreshadowed by Star Trek.

While one of Randy’s colleagues is frustrated by Shatner’s inquisitiveness and lack of prior virtual reality knowledge, Randy is extremely impressed with Shatner’s humble, open, and honest attitude, and his desire to learn as much as possible from the experience. Rather than feeling entitled to the knowledge or trying to come off as more prepared than he is, Shatner is honest about his ignorance, which invites hours of explanations from experts. Shatner is able to absorb the knowledge by asking follow-up questions so that, by the end, he truly understands. Rather than trying to impress with posturing, Randy believes it’s noble and even heroic to be honest about our weaknesses and take on the attitude of continually trying to address them.

Chapter 11 Quotes

The brick walls are there for a reason. They’re not there to keep us out. The brick walls are there to give us a chance to show how badly we want something.

Related Characters: Randy Pausch (speaker)
Related Symbols: Brick Walls
Page Number: 51-52
Explanation and Analysis:

This quote occurs after Randy tells of a cross-country trip his family took to Disneyland when he was eight years old, a trip that resulted in inspiring Randy’s childhood dream to one day become a Disney Imagineer (one of the people who designs the theme park rides).

Randy’s motto about brick walls is something he repeats as a symbol/metaphor all throughout the narrative, and the way he views brick walls, or any other obstacle, is that they are not a negative blocking force, but instead a positive opportunity to show the people who want to keep you out just how badly you want to get in.

In this example, though Randy is rejected from Disney Imagineering after receiving his PhD, he keeps his goal of working there in mind through the rest of his life. He works hard, rises up through the computer science ranks, and when he hears that Disney is working on a virtual reality ride (which was Randy’s specialty), he finds out who the head of the project is (Jon Snoddy) and proceeds to contact him and set up a meeting to impress him. Randy didn’t let the brick wall keep him out—he was patient, worked hard, bided his time, wracked up credentials and experience, and when he learned of a good opportunity to accomplish his dream, he worked relentlessly toward that goal until the gatekeepers believed he had earned his way in.

Now, here’s a lesson for managers and administrators. Both deans said the same thing: They didn’t know if this sabbatical was a good idea. But think about how differently they said it!

Related Characters: Randy Pausch (speaker), “Dean Wormer”
Page Number: 54
Explanation and Analysis:

This quote occurs soon after Jon Snoddy, the Disney Imagineer in charge of Disney’s virtual reality Aladdin project, agrees to bring Randy on as an Imagineering consultant for six months during Randy’s sabbatical. But “Dean Wormer,” a dean at the University of Virginia where Randy works, is negative and skeptical about Randy working for Disney because he believes that Disney might steal Randy’s intellectual property.

When Randy brings his request to work at Disney to the Dean of Sponsored Research, however, the dean is delighted by how excited Randy is and he is far more open to making an atypical sabbatical work. While the Dean of Sponsored Research is also unsure about the project and makes his objections clear, his reaction to Randy is much more compassionate. This anecdote illustrates the ways in which attitude impacts how those around you interact with you. Both “Dean Wormer” and the Dean of Sponsored Research said basically the same thing (they were unsure about the sabbatical to Disney) but their approach to dealing with it was opposite. The Dean of Sponsored Research had a much better relationship with Randy, solely because of his optimistic, open attitude.

Chapter 14 Quotes

…I had strengths that also were flaws. In Andy’s view, I was self-possessed to a fault, I was way too brash and I was an inflexible contrarian, always spouting opinions. One day, Andy took me for a walk. He put his arm around my shoulders and said, “Randy, it’s such a shame that people perceive you as being so arrogant, because it’s going to limit what you’re going to be able to accomplish in life.”

Related Characters: Randy Pausch (speaker), Professor Andy Van Dam
Page Number: 67-68
Explanation and Analysis:

This quote occurs after Randy tells a funny story about mouthing off at the bus stop as a kid, which caused his sister Tammy to throw his lunch box in the mud. As a college student, Randy wasn’t any less mouthy or arrogant, and though these traits served him well in many of his classes, they would often alienate other students.

Andy van Dam, in imparting the advice in this quote, does two things that Randy grows to appreciate through the rest of his life. First, the manner in which he gives Randy criticism opens Randy up to taking in the feedback and changing his behavior. Rather than telling Randy that he’s an arrogant jerk and he needs to change his attitude, Andy tells Randy that “it’s such a shame” that he is the way he is “because it’s going to limit” what he’s able to accomplish. So, instead of being told what to do, Randy hears the criticism and decides he must make a change on his own. Second, because of how powerful this experience is for Randy, it makes him a deep believer in the idea of receiving feedback. Randy becomes dedicated to creating feedback loops in his life so that he is always able to both examine his own behaviors and receive feedback from others to help him improve.

Chapter 15 Quotes

While my sister was outlining the rules, I slowly and deliberately opened a can of soda, turned it over, and poured it on the cloth seats in the back of the convertible. My message: People are more important than things. A car, even a pristine gem like my new convertible, was just a thing.

Related Characters: Randy Pausch (speaker), Tammy, Chris, Laura
Page Number: 69-70
Explanation and Analysis:

This quote occurs after Randy explains that, as a bachelor in his twenties and thirties, he would often take his sister’s kids, Chris and Laura, on trips and adventures. One day, Randy showed up to pick his niece and nephew up in a brand-new convertible and Tammy (Randy’s sister) lectured her kids about not spilling or making a mess in Randy’s new car. During this lecture, Randy poured an entire can of coke all over the back seats to teach his niece and nephew a lesson they would never forget (that people are more important than things). Randy’s visual example was effective in shifting Chris and Laura’s attitude towards material things: when Chris got sick in the convertible later in the weekend, he didn’t feel bad about it since he knew from Randy’s lesson that he was more important to Randy than the car. Randy notes later that he hopes Chris and Laura will pass this lesson on to Randy’s own kids after Randy has passed away.

Chapter 18 Quotes

The dents would be OK. My parents had raised me to recognize that automobiles are there to get you from point A to point B. They are utilitarian devices, not expressions of social status. And so I told Jai we didn’t need to do cosmetic repairs. We’d just live with the dents and gashes.

Related Characters: Randy Pausch (speaker), Jai
Page Number: 88
Explanation and Analysis:

This quote occurs when Randy comes home one day to find that Jai had accidentally run her own car into Randy’s convertible. After inspecting the cars, Randy tells Jai, much to her surprise, that the damage doesn’t warrant repairs. Randy’s parents had taught him that what cars look like is irrelevant—they aren’t meant as status symbols, but as vehicles that get you from point A to point B, which their vehicles could still manage. In Randy’s view, not everything needs to be fixed, and these gashed-up cars become a symbol of Jai and Randy’s marriage, in that it might have some dents, but, when looking at it with a positive attitude, it still works more than well enough. This passage is also evocative of the part of the book where Randy pours a can of coke onto the seat of his new convertible to teach Chris and Laura the lesson that people are more important than things. In both cases, Randy treats damage to his car as being much less important than his relationships to people he loves.

Chapter 19 Quotes

Through the whole ordeal, I don’t think we ever said to each other: “This isn’t fair.” We just kept going. We recognized that there were things we could do that might help the outcome in positive ways … and we did them. Without saying it in words, our attitude was, “Let’s saddle up and ride.”

Related Characters: Randy Pausch (speaker), Jai, Dylan
Page Number: 93
Explanation and Analysis:

This quote occurs after Jai, pregnant with their first child, began to bleed and Randy rushed her to the hospital, where she needed to have an emergency C-section surgery. All through the procedure, Randy held Jai’s hand and kept her from going into shock by calmly explaining whatever the doctor was doing to her. In the end both Dylan and Jai survived, though Dylan, born at seven months, needed to be kept in a special closed basinet.

Through this example, Randy lives out his advice about attitude and positive behavior—rather than getting upset at or flustered by their scary situation, Randy and Jai do whatever they can in the moment to deal with it. They never complain or whine about the unfairness of their situation (which could take their attention away from doing everything possible to make the outcome positive), and instead the two of them focus on the positive steps they can take to make things better, just as Randy does with his battle against cancer.

Chapter 21 Quotes

At Christmas, I had made an adventure out of putting the lights on the tree. Rather than showing Dylan and Logan the proper way to do it—carefully and meticulously—I just let them have at it haphazardly. However they wanted to throw those lights on the tree was fine by me. We got video of the whole chaotic scene, and Jai says it was a “magical moment” that will be one of her favorite memories of our family together.

Related Characters: Randy Pausch (speaker), Jai, Dylan, Logan, Chloe
Page Number: 100
Explanation and Analysis:

This quote occurs after Randy, on his last New Years eve, has taken his son Dylan to go see the movie Mr. Magorium’s Wonder Emporium, which turns out to be a melancholy experience; Randy’s son cries on his lap during the movie when the toymaker in the film tells his apprentice that he is going to die. Afterwards, Randy is depressed, so Jai tries to cheer him up by recounting all the happy memories their family experienced over the past year.

Jai highlights this one memory in particular from a week or so earlier, and Jai telling Randy she is so glad they recorded it is, in a way, Jai’s attempt to turn an obstacle into an opportunity. Normally she might have been mad at the messiness, or she might not have recorded it at all, but because of Randy’s impending death, Jai is cognizant of the need to record as many memories with Randy and the kids as possible. Also, Randy allowing his kids to have creative freedom with the lights, rather than having the attitude that it needs to look as professional as possible, turns an often-mundane activity into a fun adventure, which is very similar to how Randy would make normal activities into adventures with his niece and nephew.

Chapter 23 Quotes

I’ve long held on to a clipping from a newspaper in Roanoke, Virginia. It featured a photo of a pregnant woman who had lodged a protest against a local construction site. She worried that the sound of jackhammers was injuring her unborn child. But get this: In the photo, the woman is holding a cigarette.

Related Characters: Randy Pausch (speaker)
Page Number: 108-109
Explanation and Analysis:

This quote occurs in the midst of Randy spouting off tons of time management advice. Time management was always an obsession of Randy’s, but his lack of time left on earth has made him even more cognizant of managing his time. One of his pieces of advice is to make sure you’re spending time on the right things.

In this example, the pregnant woman may be protesting for a good cause and her behavior seems to be proactive and positive, but the fact that she is smoking a cigarette means that she’s overlooking a major (and easy) thing that she can do to impact the outcome of her pregnancy and the quality of her future child’s life. Managing your attitude and taking positive actions is important, but making sure you’re focusing on the right things and taking the best positive actions should also be part of the equation.

Chapter 24 Quotes

…educators best serve students by helping them be more self-reflective. The only way any of us can improve—as Coach Graham taught me—is if we develop a real ability to assess ourselves.

Related Characters: Randy Pausch (speaker), Coach Jim Graham
Page Number: 112
Explanation and Analysis:

Randy discusses the current educational landscape and expresses his frustration that students and parents often view colleges and universities as operating in a customer-service model; parents and students think they’re buying a five-class course load in the same way that they would buy five pairs of jeans. Randy is okay with the customer-service model, but he prefers a different analogy: the university is like a gym, and the professors are like trainers. Randy sees his job as not to coddle the kids, but to give them access to tools and then present them with an honest assessment of how they’re faring so that, one day, they can be able to assess themselves.

Creating a feedback loop for yourself so that you can assess your own strengths, weaknesses, and progress in any aspect of life is the primary character trait that Randy believes colleges should teach students, just as Coach Graham gave Randy a feedback loop to assess how hard he’s working on any task. Without teachers offering students honest feedback, the students will have great difficulty assessing their strengths and weaknesses honestly, and will then not know what to focus their time on improving. Honesty and openness, on both the part of teacher and learner, is what helps create effective feedback loops.

Chapter 25 Quotes

“It does take a lot of luck,” he said. “But all of you are already lucky. Getting to work with Randy and learn from him, that’s some kind of luck right there. I wouldn’t be here if not for Randy.”

Related Characters: Tommy Burnett (speaker), Randy Pausch
Page Number: 120
Explanation and Analysis:

This quote occurs after Randy discusses the backstory of one of his former students, Tommy Burnett, who always dreamed of working on special effects for a Star Wars film. After learning programming skills from working on Randy’s research team, Tommy is hired by George Lucas’s company to do special effects for The Phantom Menace.

Here, Tommy’s response to one of Randy’s student’s questions helps to shift the attitude of all of Randy’s class. Rather than searching for luck in the form of an outside opportunity that simply falls into their laps, Tommy explains that all of the students in Randy’s class should have the attitude that they are already lucky, as they have the opportunity to learn from Randy. Tommy’s advice and attitude (which Randy largely helped shape) helps Randy break through to this class of students so he can help teach them and give them important feedback, much in the same way Randy taught Tommy. In this instance, Randy’s feedback cycles down to Tommy, which cycles down to the rest of his class, in turn making them more open to hearing Randy’s advice in the present. Hopefully, one day, these students will pass Randy’s advice down to students of their own, and so on, so the feedback loop never ends.

Chapter 27 Quotes

…if it is presented as a storytelling activity, girls become perfectly willing to learn how to write software. In fact, they love it… Everybody loves telling stories. It’s one of the truly universal things about our species. So in my mind, Caitlin wins the All-Time Best Head-Fake Award.

Related Characters: Randy Pausch (speaker), Caitlin Kelleher
Related Symbols: The Head Fake
Page Number: 128
Explanation and Analysis:

This quote occurs after Randy tells of his creation of the Alice software project, which is software designed to get people of all ages (but especially kids) to make animated videos as well as video games, while at the same time teaching them real computer programming skills.

One of Randy’s students, Caitlin Kelleher, sees that the program doesn’t seem to be as effective or enjoyable for girls as it is for boys, so she sets out to remedy that problem. Her solution isn’t to change the software much, but instead to frame it in a different way. Rather than ‘programming software,’ Caitlin presents Alice as a ‘storytelling activity,’ leading girls to enjoy it just as much as boys. This makes Randy decide to give Caitlin the metaphorical All-Time Best Head-Fake Award, as many more girls are now making their dreams into realities through the Alice program and learning valuable programming skills they can use throughout their lives. In the guise of simply telling stories, these girls will now learn skills they’re not even necessarily aware of, which is the whole idea behind the head fake.

Chapter 28 Quotes

…my dad had taken a photo of our TV set the second Neil Armstrong set foot on the moon. He had preserved the moment for me, knowing it could help trigger big dreams.

Related Characters: Randy Pausch (speaker), Randy’s Dad
Page Number: 132
Explanation and Analysis:

This quote is situated after Randy says the moon landing is what made him first realize that pretty much anything is possible. At summer camp, the counselors intended to show the kids the moon landing, but because the landing was delayed, they made the kids go to bed. This is something that still disappoints Randy.

However, Randy’s dad took a photo of the TV during the moment of Neil Armstrong’s famous leap for mankind, and when Randy gets home from camp he is elated by the photo, as it helps to trigger huge dreams for his future. In Randy’s view, the camp counselors should have had a more positive attitude and realized that seeing your species get off of the planet for the first time was far more important than missing their scheduled bed time. Inspiration, to Randy, is the ultimate tool for spreading optimism, hope and dreams, and if the counselors had prioritized that more and had been a little more positive, dozens more kids might have become inspired to have big dreams of their own.

Chapter 32 Quotes

…Complaining does not work as a strategy. We all have finite time and energy. Any time we spend whining is unlikely to help us achieve our goals. And it won’t make us happier.

Related Characters: Randy Pausch (speaker), Sandy Blatt
Page Number: 139
Explanation and Analysis:

This quote occurs right after Randy explains his adoration for two very different people: Sandy Blatt, Randy’s quadriplegic college landlord, and Jackie Robinson, the first non-white baseball player in Major League Baseball.

Both Sandy Blatt and Jackie Robinson never complained about their harsh situations. Sandy’s hopes of becoming a professional athlete were dashed when a truck backed into him, and as a result of his injuries his fiancé left him. Sandy never complained, he became a marriage counselor, found a wife, and eventually adopted kids. Jackie Robinson never complained or whined about the racism hurled at him on a daily basis, he simply worked harder then everyone else and earned his place on the field. In both cases, Randy focuses on how they easily could have whined, complained, and taken on a ‘woe-is-me’ attitude, but instead they simply faced their situations head-on, had a positive attitude, and earned their way to whatever they wanted.

Chapter 51 Quotes

I made a comment to my dad about the job being beneath those teachers. (I guess I was implying that the job was beneath me, too.) My dad gave me the tongue-lashing of a lifetime. He believed manual labor was beneath no one. He said he’d prefer that I worked hard and became the best ditch-digger in the world rather than coasting along as a self-impressed elitist behind a desk.

Related Characters: Randy Pausch (speaker), Randy’s Dad
Page Number: 169
Explanation and Analysis:

This quote is situated toward the end of the book, after Randy has lamented the growing entitlement among young people entering the work force today. This leads Randy to recall an anecdote about entitlement from his own life, when Randy was working with a group of teachers hoeing strawberries during a summer job and he complained that the job was beneath them.

Essentially, Randy’s dad told Randy that he really needed to adjust his attitude to be more positive, open-minded, and less condescending. Randy and the teachers are no different from those who do physical labor every day, and treating them or their job as unimportant makes Randy a jerk, not an impressive person. Randy’s father’s outburst had a real impact on Randy, as Randy took the feedback, worked harder the next day, and looked at laborers with far more respect through the rest of his life.

Chapter 55 Quotes

Ask those questions. Just ask them. More often than you’d suspect, the answer you’ll get is, “Sure.”

Related Characters: Randy Pausch (speaker), Randy’s Dad, Dylan
Page Number: 179
Explanation and Analysis:

This quote occurs near the end of the book, when Randy recounts a trip to Disney World that Randy, Dylan, and Randy’s dad took shortly before Randy’s Dad’s death. While waiting for the monorail, Dylan mentioned that he wanted to sit all the way up front near the conductor, and Randy’s dad thought that sounded really cool, too. So, when they all boarded the monorail, Randy simply asked if they could sit in the front-most compartment, and a Disney employee said yes and took them to sit there. Both Dylan and Randy’s dad were shocked, and Randy uses this anecdote as an opportunity to impart advice to the readers of The Last Lecture—often in life, if you have a positive attitude and proactive behavior and simply just ask for what you want (like when Randy and Tammy broke the salt-and-pepper shaker many years earlier and asked to have it replaced), people might be happy to give it to you. Simply feeling entitled to something and not trying to get it won’t amount to anything, but if you’re optimistic in your attitude and proactive in your behavior, oftentimes it is easier to receive the things you want than it might at first seem.

Chapter 57 Quotes

My personal take on optimism is that as a mental state, it can enable you to do tangible things to improve your physical state.

Related Characters: Randy Pausch (speaker), Dr. Herb Zeh
Page Number: 183
Explanation and Analysis:

This quote is situated near the end of The Last Lecture, when Randy recalls speaking with his doctors about how optimism and positivity can impact terminal illnesses like pancreatic cancer. Randy knows that being optimistic can’t save his life all on its own, but he also believes that being optimistic and positive can lead him to do “tangible things” to improve his condition and physical state, like continuing to work out or spend time with his family. Having a positive attitude, even in a dire situation, can make your quality of life better, even if it won’t change the end date.