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The Last Lecture: A Recommended Read For Teens

This wonderful collection of stories is a great read for all ages. Accessible and relevant, it teaches life lessons without becoming preachy.

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I love reading with my kids. When they were younger, I’d read stories to them while they ate meals. I loved that we knew the same characters, and we often made up sequels or new endings. More importantly, however, was the fact that sharing this experience really united us as readers.

Even today, we still read together. In our house, reading the same article from Sports Illustrated, a short story, or a common novel provides opportunities to have conversations that our kids, as they get older, are reluctant to engage in. When we discuss a character’s motives, argue about the ending, share our frustration or delight with the plot or theme, we are talking about other people, but we are also talking about ourselves.

One tried and true book that engenders wonderful dialogue is Randy Pausch’s The Last Lecture.  After being diagnosed with terminal cancer, Pausch compiled this collection of life lessons in an effort to leave his family with a sense of the ideas and values that directed his life.

The content is relevant to adolescents’ experiences, and the narrative style of the book provides a great balance between storytelling and advice-giving.

It is also a book that can be read in increments, a chapter at a time, or even randomly. Then reading together doesn’t seem like such a Herculean endeavor.

My favorite chapter describes his experience with Coach Graham, a no-nonsense pee-wee football coach who pushed his puny ball players to work their absolute hardest at all times. Pausch realized that the relentless badgering was not done because the coach reveled in torturing his players. Rather, he was trying to demonstrate that he believed his athletes were capable of accomplishing challenging tasks.

In these few pages, there are so many wonderful questions for teenagers and parents alike:  Would you want to play for this coach? What do you do when you get frustrated?  How do you respond to criticism?  It’s impossible not to have an opinion and therein lies the true beauty of reading The Last Lecture together with your teenager.

Jody Podl

Jody Podl is a teacher at Shaker Heights High School.