Randy Pausch – The Last Lecture

by J-Stacknik

"In all likelihood cancer is going to defeat my body but it's not going to defeat my soul because the human spirit is much more powerful than any biological disease." Dr. Randy Pausch.

Here is a hypothetical question: What would you say if you knew you were going to die and had a chance to sum up everything that was most important to you? An old age question that had been posed to the annual speaker of a lecture series at Carnegie Mellon University, Dr. Randy Pausch, who was a computer sciences professor at CMU. Randy had been diagnosed with terminal pancreatic cancer and to him this question was not hypothetical.

Friends and colleagues came from every part of the country to attend his last lecture. As an afterthought the lecture was video taped and put on the internet for the few who could not attend the actual lecture. That was all it took. The lecture was so uplifting, so funny, so inspirational that the video went viral and to date it has been viewed almost 15,000,000 times. And thousands have written that his lecture changed their lives.

According to the Pancreatic Cancer Action Network, approximately 37,170 Americans were diagnosed with pancreatic cancer in 2008 and 33,370 will die from it. Instead of focusing on this and the fact that he was dying, Randy chose to talk about his childhood dreams. “You may not agree with the list but I was there… Being in zero gravity, playing in the National Football League, authoring an article in the World Book Encyclopedia – I guess you can tell the nerds early… I wanted to be one of the guys who won the big stuffed animals in the amusement park.” Pausch says.

He went on to attain almost all of those dreams, but they didn’t come easy. He spoke of overcoming obstacles that may seem insurmountable. Like getting into Brown University, where he graduated magna cum laude, he was wait listed. It was a brick wall that some people might have walked away from. But Pausch had a novel way of looking at obstacles.

“The brick walls are there for a reason,” he said during his lecture “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.” He kept calling the college until it let him in. He said his biggest brick wall was a beautiful graduate student name Jai Glasgow, whom he met at a lecture, he was smitten, but she resisted. However, he refused to give up, and they eventually married and had three children.

It is for his children, Dylan, Logan and Chole, that Pausch wanted to leave memories for and was the reason he would not allow himself to wallow in self pity. “I mean, the metaphor I’ve used is… somebody’s going to push my family off a cliff pretty soon, and I won’t be there to catch them. And that breaks my heart. But I have some time to sew some nets to cushion the fall. So, I can curl up in a ball and cry, or I can get to work on the nets.”

Pausch was a popular professor, whose work in the field of virtual reality was very respected. He proposed a class that would become legendary at CMU: It was called Building Virtual Worlds. It brought together students of many different disciplines who were forced to work intensively in small groups. It was so popular that it became an entire program. To Pausch the course was more than designing virtual worlds it had another message: “How do you behave with integrity? How do you behave in a way that other people will respect you and want to keep working with you?”

Together with drama professor Dan Marinelli, Pausch started the Entertainment Technology Center, which over the years has become the go-to school for video gaming and Hollywood high tech. Pausch said that over the years he went from attaining his childhood dreams to learning to enable the dreams of his students, which he said was just as satisfying.

After his diagnosis, Pausch devoted all of his time to his family so that he would have some emotional support. He interviewed people who had lost their parents and what they would have wanted as keepsakes, what they wished their parents had shared with them before they died. Pausch wanted to make sure he left his wife and children everything they would need to remember him, and to know he loved them. One of the things he left for his kids was the lecture. He called it a message in a bottle.

That lecture along with private videos he made for his kids’ eyes only and a book he wrote called “The Last Lecture” would give his kids a sense of how much he loved them. Although the video may have been made for his children it has touched millions. People around the country have said that the lecture had helped bring magic into their lives.

Peter Riebling, a lawyer form Vienna, Va., handed his 10 year old daughter, Kimberly, a pencil and gave her free reign on her bedroom wall. “He told me to draw on my walls, so at first I honestly thought he had gone crazy, because most parents wouldn’t let their children draw on the walls, especially when they are brand new and painted and stuff. So I did start drawing on my walls – and then I actually found it was extremely fun so I kept doing it,” said Kimberly.

Diane Gregory from Las Vegas encourages her teenage son Matt to express himself by hanging every piece of sports memorabilia he had collected on his walls. After battling cancer, Kaje Lane says Pausch has inspired her to pursue singing – a passion she had put aside for many years. “I think so many people relate to Randy because every one of us has some sort of dream they want to make real, or some sort of passion that they want to tap into if they’re not already thinking that way… I think people are just drawn to that,” said Kaje. These are examples of how Randy Pausch’s last lecture touched people.

In a statement by Randy’s wife, Jai Pausch, shortly after Randy’s passing in July 2008 said: “I’d like to thank the millions of people who have offered their love, prayers and support. Randy was so happy and proud that the lecture and book inspired parents to revisit their priorities, particularly their relationships with their children. The outpouring of cards and emails really sustained him.”

Read more:

Randy Pausch, Last Lecture Professor Dies | ABC News

Randy Pausch Last Lecture: Achieving Your Childhood Dreams | Youtube

Pancreatic Cancer Action Network with Dr. Randy Pausch | YouTube

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