I was watching the news a few weeks ago on a Saturday morning and they had a clip (similar short news clip above-3 min 47 sec long) about a special on a college professor Randy Pausch, a Carnegie Mellon University computer-science professor, giving his “Last Lecture”.
This is a common title for talks on college campuses today. Schools have created “Last Lecture Series,” in which top professors are asked to think deeply about what matters to them and to give hypothetical final talks. For the audience, the question to be pondered is this: What wisdom would we impart to the world if we knew it was our last chance?
At Carnegie Mellon, however, Dr. Pausch’s speech was more than just an academic discussion. The 46-year-old father of three has pancreatic cancer and expects to live for just a few months. His lecture, using images on a giant screen, turned out to be a joyous and captivating journey through the lessons of his life.
“He began by showing his CT scans, revealing 10 tumors on his liver. But after that, he talked about living. If anyone expected him to be sad, he said, “I’m sorry to disappoint you.” He then dropped to the floor and did one-handed pushups.
Clicking through photos of himself as a boy, he talked about his childhood dreams: to win giant stuffed animals at carnivals, to walk in zero gravity, to design Disney rides, to write a World Book entry. By adulthood, he had achieved each goal. As proof, he had students carry out all the huge stuffed animals he’d won in his life, which he gave to audience members. After all, he doesn’t need them anymore.
He discussed his techie background. “I’ve experienced a deathbed conversion,” he said, smiling. “I just bought a Macintosh.” Randy displayed his rejection letters and talked about setbacks in his career, repeating: “Brick walls are there for a reason. They let us prove how badly we want things.” He encouraged us to be patient with others. “Wait long enough, and people will surprise and impress you.” He shows pictures of his bedroom he had as a child. He had drawn mathematical notations all over his walls. Then Randy says: “If your kids want to paint their bedrooms, as a favor to me, let ‘em do it.”
While displaying photos of his bosses and students over the years, he said that helping others fulfill their dreams is even more fun than achieving your own. He talked of requiring his students to create videogames without sex and violence. “You’d be surprised how many 19-year-old boys run out of ideas when you take those possibilities away,” he said, but they all rose to the challenge.
He also saluted his parents, who let him make his childhood bedroom his domain, even if his wall etchings hurt the home’s resale value. He knew his mom was proud of him when he got his Ph.D, he said, despite how she’d introduce him: “This is my son. He’s a doctor, but not the kind who helps people.”
Dr. Pausch’s lecture, in the same way, became a call to his colleagues and students to go on without him and do great things. But he was also addressing those closer to his heart.
Near the end of his talk, he had a cake brought out for his wife, whose birthday was the day before. As she cried and they embraced on stage, the audience sang “Happy Birthday,” many wiping away their own tears.”
Dr. Pausch’s speech was taped so his children, ages 5, 2 and 1, can watch it when they’re older. His last words in his last lecture were simple: “This was for my kids.”
What an extraordinary individual! To be that positive in the face of death is something to admire. He has such a loving family to carry on such a positive legacy. His message is very powerful and heartwarming with so many lessons to give. He is such an inspiration. The full lecture is long, but it is so worth your time guys.
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