1L2N: July 29, 2008

Wednesday, 30 July 2008

The last lecture

On July 25, 2008, Randy Pausch died at his home in Chesapeake, Virginia attended by his wife Jai and their three children, Dylan, 6, Logan, 4, and Chloe, 2.

Randy Pausch is either someone you’ve never heard of, or a person who has profoundly affected your life. A computer scientist and computer science professor at Carnegie Mellon University, Pausch had a deep commitment to the potential of virtual reality.

But it was his commitment to the human reality for which he will be most remembered.

On September 8, 2007, a few weeks after being diagnosed with terminal pancreatic cancer in August, Pausch delivered a lecture for the “Journeys” lecture series at Carnegie Mellon University. His lecture was titled, “Really Achieving Your Childhood Dreams,” but is more widely known as “The Last Lecture” and has become one of the most downloaded videos on the Internet.

“This lecture series used to be called ‘The Last Lecture,” he said. “If you had one last lecture to give before you died, what would it be? I thought, ‘Damn! I finally nailed the venue and they renamed it!’” At the time of the lecture, despite the fact of his terminal illness, he was in perfect health. “If I don’t seem as depressed or morose as I should be,” he said, “sorry to disappoint you.” Speaking of the “cognitive dissonance” between his prognosis and his present state he said, “I am in phenomenally good health right now,” adding, “in fact, I’m in better shape than most of you,” whereupon he proceeded to do a number of pushups on stage much to the delight of the audience. “So anybody who wants to cry or pity me can come down and do a few of those and then you may pity me.”

In his lecture he listed his childhood dreams, which included becoming a Disney “Imagineer,” being Captain Kirk, and experiencing weightlessness. Throughout his laugh-out-loud speech he delineated how he had met, or nearly met, all of his goals, and the importance of not giving up on dreams.

The humor, warmth and wisdom of his lecture proved to be an inspiration to thousands of people. He appeared on Oprah (which shouldn't be held against him), the city of Pittsburgh declared November 19, 2007 to be “Dr. Randy Pausch Day,” and in its May issue, Time listed him as one of the World’s Top-100 Most Influential People. On May 30, 2008, President George Bush wrote a letter to Pausch saying that he had “helped to uplift the hearts of millions of Americans” and thanking him for his “unwavering commitment to our Nation’s youth.”

His colleagues were more than willing to join in the nation-wide praise.

“Randy had an enormous and lasting impact on Carnegie Mellon,” said University President Jared L. Cohon. “He was a brilliant researcher and gifted teacher. His love of teaching, his sense of fun and his brilliance came together in the Alice project, which teaches students computer programming while enabling them to do something fun - making animated movies and games. Carnegie Mellon — and the world — are better places for having had Randy Pausch in them.”

“Randy was a force of nature,” said Gabriel Robins, a computer science professor at the University of Virginia and Pausch’s former colleague. “He had a very visceral, fundamental resonance to the core of humanity. It’s not an accident that people flocked to him; people of all ages, cultures and religions. I thought of him as a genius of many things - not just science and research, but marketing, branding, selling, convincing, leading and showing by example.”

Pausch was a dynamic teacher and speaker. Andy van Dam, a longtime mentor to Pausch, said, “Good teaching is always a performance, but what Randy did was in a class all by itself” and compared the response of his students as being similar to that given by athletes to “a great coach who cares not only about winning but about the team players as individuals.”

Pausch’s entire Last Lecture can be seen on YouTube. There have been, and are likely to be, few other lectures to match it.

Randy Pausch: Oct. 23, 1960 - July 25, 2008.

Official Google Blog: Goodbye to Randy Pausch, a great teacher