Zaslow gives lecture about ‘The Last Lecture’


Staff Reporter

Jeffrey Zaslow, a columnist for The Wall Street Journal who co-authored “The Last Lecture” along with the late Randy Pausch, spoke at Oakland University on Tuesday, March 3, about his career and experiences working with Pausch.

About 100 people attended the lecture held in the Oakland Center’s Gold Rooms at 6:30 p.m. The event was co-sponsored by Oakland University’s journalism program and The Oakland Post.

Zaslow offered to waive his usual speaking fee and requested that donations be made to benefit the Pancreatic Cancer Action Network. The event was followed by a book signing and raised over $250 for the charity.

“He is a storyteller, a journalist and a nice guy,” said OU journalism professor Holly Gilbert, the main organizer of the event. “To me, that is greatness.”

Zaslow explained that his love of simply telling stories is strong enough to travel.

“Wherever I am asked, I go. It’s nice to know people care,” Zaslow said. “I want to pass on Randy’s story.”

Zaslow began by sharing some anecdotes about his time as an advice columnist and his current job. Zaslow’s WSJ column “Moving On” features tales of difficult life transitions and was named the best general-interest column by the National Society of Newspaper Columnists in 2003 and 2005.

“I write about the key moments in a person’s life,” said Zaslow of his column. “I’m always looking for that moment.”

One of those moments came when Zaslow’s editor told him about Pausch, a Carnegie Mellon professor, and his battle with pancreatic cancer. He suggested that he simply call him after the lecture.

“I thought there was something in his story,” said Zaslow of his decision to drive 300 miles from Detroit to Pittsburgh.

Zaslow attended the dying professor’s final presentation in 2007. He then wrote a column and follow-up that would bring the story outside of the classroom.

Zaslow’s columns in WSJ, with a video highlights from the lecture posted on the Internet, brought Pausch’s words of wisdom to the world.

Pausch’s final lecture did not focus on death, but on achieving childhood dreams. Zaslow’s dream was to be a writer.

“To write a book that touched the world — it’s bittersweet since Randy’s gone now,” said Zaslow. “Randy knew he was giving me that dream.”

Subsequently, “The Last Lecture” was then written over the course of 53 cell phone calls made to Zaslow during hour-long bike rides. The book expanded on his lecture and became an international bestseller. 

“I wanted to tell the story of what happened to this man,” said Zaslow. “He wanted to say goodbye to his family and students and look what happened.”

“The Last Lecture” has since been translated into 44 languages and video of the lecture has been viewed over 14 million times on Carnegie Mellon’s website and YouTube. Zaslow spoke of the lessons he learned from Pausch and of the impact that “remarkable and astonishing afternoon” had on his life.

Zaslow’s latest book “The Girls from Ames” is slated to appear in bookstores in April. The nonfiction work follows 11 women from Ames, Iowa who have been friends their whole lives.