rhetorical analysis of randy pauschs last lecture

“Hypothetically, if you knew you were going to die and you had one last lecture, what would you say to your students?” That is how Professor Randy Pausch, from Carnegie Mellon, began his last lecture, a speech entitled “Really Achieving Your Childhood Dreams” while in fact he was dying of Pancreatic Cancer. He knew he only had months left to live and put together this last lecture to read to his students. His lecture focuses in on points such as the importance of: making sincere apologies, not whining, being gracious and being humble. To stress his thoughts and views on life and following one’s dreams, Randy Pausch used a great amount of repetition, metaphors, allusion, humor, ethos, and pathos in his last lecture.

Randy Pausch went to Brown University and transferred to Carnegie Mellon to get his PHD. He taught at the University of Virginia and eventually taught at Carnegie Mellon. He was a professor of computer science and human computer interaction and design at Carnegie Mellon. His impressive credential showcases his credibility and establishes ethos. Although Pausch was well-educated and attended prestigious schools and he does not talk down to his audience or try to impress them. Pausch was motivational and inspirational, he used examples from his own life to show that even if you fail at something to pick yourself back up the same way that he did, which made him all the more credible. This is evident when Pausch says: “When I was eight my family took the pilgrimage to Disneyland in California, and it was this incredible experience, the rides and the attractions and everything, and I said ‘Gosh, I’d like to make stuff like that when I get older.’ So I graduated from college and I tried to become an Imagineer—these are the people who make the magic—and I got a lovely rejection letter. And then I tried again after graduate school, and I kept all those rejection letters over the years… but then the darndest thing happened. You know, I worked hard and worked hard, and I became a junior faculty member and I specialized in doing certain kinds of research—and I developed a skill that was valuable to Disney… and I was part of an Imagineering team and we worked on something called Aladdin’s Magic Carpet Ride, and it was incredibly cool. ”

During his speech, he is honest and accepting of his condition but continues to stay positive. Although he knows he’s dying, he’s still positive even through his darkest times. He makes his audience realize that their problems aren’t so big and to enjoy life. Randy Pausch uses Pathos to get his point across to his audience. “I am dying soon, and I am choosing to have fun today, tomorrow, and every other day I have left”. He talks about his kids and how they are the ones he wrote this last lecture for, saying “I only wrote this lecture for three people, and when they’re older, they’ll watch it”. Pausch also talks about his family, and love for his wife. By talking about his family and the love he has for them it appeals to people’s emotions. The reader is able to put themselves in the shoes of either his wife, his child, or his own shoes because everyone knows what it is like to have someone that you care deeply about. The thought of losing that person can really strike a chord and overall creates pathos. Pathos is also established in the introduction of his speech when Pausch is explaining his cancer and how he only has months to live, which is easy for many people to relate to considering there are numerous people who have received the news that their loved one has a short period of time to live due to a disease such as cancer. While reading Randy Pausch’s “Last Lecture” it is easy to recognize that he has a distinct style. Pausch uses several different features of style.

These include: diction, figurative language, humor, irony, and repetition. By simply looking at Pausch’s word choice, you can tell that he is a well-educated man. For example, he used the word “pilgrimage” to describe a simple family vacation to Florida. What makes him discernible from other speakers is that he does not throw his knowledge in the face of his audience. Pausch still manages to keep a down-to-earth vibe. The entire speech plays upon irony as well. It is ironic because this man is giving his last lecture, a lecture that is usually for professors who simply retire of leave that profession and will not be lecturing anymore. It is ironic because this was literally Randy’s last lecture due to the fact that he was dying of pancreatic cancer. Another device Pausch uses is repetition. Throughout his speech he constantly speaks of “dreams” but more importantly “childhood dreams”. By repeating these phrases, he is stressing the importance of the dreams you make as a child. Some of Randy’s childhood dreams include being in the NFL and becoming an Imagineer for Disney. Almost every little boy wants to be a professional athlete, as well as many little girls. Did Randy achieve that specific dream? No, but he did become an Imagineer, or at least a part of an Imagineering team. The entire speech is about achieving your childhood dreams so it only makes sense that he would repeatedly communicate the words to his audience. Literary allusions are used within the speech as well, enhancing the importance of childhood. For example, “You better decide early if you’re a Tigger or an Eeyore.” Pausch brings in another element of childhood by referencing the well-known show “Winnie the Pooh”. By discussing a show that was a large part of many kids’ early years forces the audience to remember what it was like being a child. Not only is this an allusion but it is also a metaphor. Pausch is saying that being a Tigger is a good thing; a positive, optimistic, and energetic person. On the other hand being an Eeyore isn’t nearly as desirable. Being an Eeyore would that you’re a pessimist and can always find the bad in situations. Pausch wants his audience to know that you get much farther in life by being a Tigger compared to being an Eeyore. This altogether adds to the idea of childhood dreams. There are also many other metaphors used within the speech “Really Achieving Your Childhood Dreams”.

One of the most famous parts of Pausch’s last lecture is a metaphor about brick walls. Pausch says, “The brick walls are there for a reason. The brick walls are not there to keep us out. The brick walls are there to give us a chance to show how badly we want something. Because the brick walls are there to stop the people who don’t want it badly enough”. These brick walls that he is referring to are adversities. Such obstacles can be physical, emotional, mental, etc.; basically anything life throws at you that you aren’t expecting. Pausch is saying that if you really truly want something you will do anything and everything in your power to overcome those obstacles and achieve your goals or, in his case, your childhood dreams. The other famous metaphor used in this speech is, “We cannot change the cards we are dealt, just how we play the hand.” Pausch is saying that we cannot choose the life we live, we can only choose how we want to live the life that we are given. Most people who are diagnosed with pancreatic cancer do not tend to deal with it as well as Randy did. He knew that he could not change his fate so he chose to make the best of what he had. Some people put in the same situation would completely shut down and would not make anything out of their time left. Randy knows that this is a key to happiness and really achieving childhood dreams. What seems to be the most important device that Pausch used is: humor. Here is a man who knows that his time is coming to an end yet he still knows how to have fun and be humorous. For example, Pausch says, “Although I’m going to die soon, I’m actually physically very strong. In fact, I’m probably physically stronger than most of the people in this audience.” Even on his death bed, he finds a way to joke around with his audience and makes them feel comfortable. The humor in this speech definitely lets the audience relax. In most situations, when a terminal illness is mentioned, people tend to tense up and don’t know exactly how to react. But Pausch knows exactly how to set everyone at ease and allows a better connection between himself and his audience. His tone is consistent throughout the speech, he continues to be serious but humorous keeping a lightness about such a dark topic.

There are portions more serious than others but it is necessary in order for Pausch to make his points in the speech. To conclude his speech, Randy Pausch leaves his audience with a goal. He challenges them and says, “It’s about how you live your life, because if you lead your life the right way, the karma will take care of itself.” Pausch hopes that his audience will realize what changed they need to make to their life in order to be successful and feel good about what they have done in life. Through literary devices such as diction, figurative language, repetition, pathos, and ethos, Pausch makes his point valid. His message is that if you live your life with strong values, good karma will come to you. Pausch also stresses the importance of perseverance and to keep reaching for your childhood dreams.

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