Sunday, February 7, 2010


A couple years ago, I received an email with a video of Randy Pausch’s last lecture. Randy Pausch was a professor at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh.

Apparently someone at the University came up with the idea of presenting a series of “Last Lectures.” The idea was to have faculty members prepare and deliver the lecture they would give if they knew it was to be their last. An interesting enough exercise for most of the faculty.

But for Randy Pausch, it was the real thing. He had just been informed that he had incurable pancreatic cancer. So he made a video of his last lecture. It took the Internet by storm, and inspired a book which was published shortly after his death in July of 2008.

Oddly enough, Professor Pausch appeared on the video to be in excellent general health. He began his lecture by doing a series of vigorous push ups, just to show that he was in great shape.

Randy called his lecture “Really Achieving Your Childhood Dreams.” It’s an incredibly moving and inspirational message. I recommend that you Google Randy Pausch and view his video. You won’t be disappointed.

Preparing to give a talk at Cooley Law School a while back, the idea of a last lecture kept sort of cropping up. Mayo Clinic tells me I’m good for several thousand more miles, but the fact is that in May I will be 81 years old. I remember when my mother was 81. I gotta say, she was old.

When you get to be my age, you think a lot about death, but not the way you think about it when you’re forty or fifty. There’s no panic, no fear. We all know, and we always knew, that death is a part of life. It’s natural. It’s certain. It’s universal. When you get old, your friends die. People treat you differently. Younger golfing buddies rake your sand traps and fix your divots.

And people listen to you; as though you have somehow gotten smarter just by living longer. I wonder about that. I always prayed for wisdom; always wanted to be a wise person. Now I read opinions I wrote forty years ago as a Supreme Court Justice and I marvel at how smart I was back then. I certainly don’t feel any wiser now. I sure wouldn’t want to take a bar examination this summer.

But I suppose there are some things that begin to sink in as the years go by. Some things you always knew become even more certain.

For example, there’s my mantra about perseverance, progress and personal responsibility. It goes like this:

If you drop it, pick it up. If you spill it, wipe it up. If you forget it, go back and get it. If you break it, fix it. If you destroy it, replace it. If you owe it, pay it. If you did it, admit it.

Why? Because most of the forward progress we make in the game of life is just getting back to the line of scrimmage.

They say that Irish Altzheimer’s is when you forget everything but the grudge. Despite my Celtic heritage, I have had no room in my life for ill will toward anyone. Besides, I think that hatred eats the hater.

If you have a friend, it’s like having a relative. It never changes. Your friend is your friend. Period.

Forgiving feels good; forgetting feels better. Every hour, every minute spent seething over hurt feelings is an absolute waste of time. You can’t control the thoughtless, cruel, or mean spirited things that other people do or say. You can control how you react to them. You can control your feelings. You are the only one who can make you feel good.

I’m a dreamer; always have been. I put myself to sleep at night thinking about my dreams. And I think about them in the morning to get myself up and started. Many times, I dream about my dreams. Come up with new ideas, new solutions, new strategies while I’m asleep.

And your dreams demand attention. They demand action. You can’t just dream about a dream. You’ve gotta do something about it. Often just doing something – anything – will make the dream go away. If it doesn’t actually pan out –and many don’t – at least if you gave it your best shot, you will have earned some credits in the college of hard knocks.

Randy Pausch said that the brick walls we encounter in life are good. They’re put in our way so that we can prove how much we want to achieve our dreams. Nothing in life worth having or doing will come to you unless you want it. Really want it.

That’s because valuable things demand a high price. Whether it’s an education, a career, a marriage, a reputation, or anything else you set as a goal or let yourself dream about having or doing, it will not come to you unless you are willing to pay the price.

That price isn’t always money. Indeed it rarely is. Usually the price is paid in sacrifice, in waiting, in patience, in perseverance, in starting over again and again, in believing and preparing and in holding on when everyone tells you to let go.

I have often told my children and grandchildren that success is getting back up again. And so it is. But there is another dimension to success that is so axiomatic it rarely gets mentioned.

My father put it this way, “You know what’s right and you know what’s wrong. Do what’s right.”

The inmates who dug a tunnel under the prison industries building in Stillwater Minnesota recently certainly had a lot of perseverance. But they were on the wrong road. They were not doing what’s right.

Success comes by achieving or working tirelessly toward good, honorable, positive goals.

Those are the dreams worth having, worth fighting for.

My son Tom and his family came to Florida to visit over New Years. One night at dinner, Tom suggested we all tell our New Year’s resolutions. When it came my turn, without any particular forethought, I said that in the new year I was going to be happy.

Not lose weight to be happy. Or save money to be happy. Or take a trip, go on a cruise, buy a car, or do anything else to be happy. No, I just decided that next year, I am going to be happy.

And you know something? It works. If you just decide to be happy, you can be happy. Nobody else can make you happy. Nothing you do, nothing you acquire, nothing you learn, or see, or experience will make you happy. Happiness comes from the inside. It is self generated.

A happy person is happy. An unhappy person is unhappy. It’s as simple as that.

I have a dozen things on my plate. Things I want to do. Spend time with my darling wife, and hear her laugh. Improve my golf game. Write a book or two. Promote golf as a team sport. Advocate for a convention to propose amendments to the United States Constitution. Travel. Visit my grandchildren and my new great granddaughter.

But these things don’t make me, won’t make me, can’t make me happy. I bring my happiness with me. I take it with me wherever I go. To the dentist’s office. To the movies. To a wake or a funeral. Happiness is a state of mind.

I sincerely hope to be happy on my death bed. The good Lord has blessed me with a long and healthy life, filled with love, achievement, friends, and beautiful moments. I thank God for the life He has given me.

At the end of it, I only hope it will be said of me that I finished the race, that I kept the faith, that I did my best and went out with courage and grace.

And that would be my last lecture. Thanks for listening.


  1. This comment has been removed by the author.

  2. What great words of wisdom and inspiration, my wise old uncle. I remember when the Lady turned 80!

  3. Thanks for sharing your last lecture with us!