It all began with one, age-old 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?
That question had been posed to the annual speaker of a lecture series at Carnegie Mellon University, where Randy Pausch was a computer sciences professor. Professors who retire at Carnegie Mellon are given the opportunity to prepare a “last lecture” to present to students, faculty, and friends who choose to hear.
For Pausch, though, the question wasn’t hypothetical.
Many of you have heard of Dr. Randy Pausch, the 47-year-old father of three young children who was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer just when he seemed to have it all – doctoral appointment at a major university, the girl of his dreams, and three beautiful children – all under the age of five.
His lecture became an online viral video. He made guest appearances on every major television news show and talk show. He became a household name – at least in my house.
I found myself fascinated with this charismatic, handsome, and articulate young man. He was a delight to watch on television and online. He, you could tell, was a fantastic teacher.
He believed in hands-on instruction, student-centered instruction, collaboration, high expectations, and living life to the fullest.
His book, The Last Lecture sold over 400,000 copies in its first printing – and that was in April, 2008.
It is, without a doubt, one of the most fascinating books I have ever read in that Pausch feels no pity for himself, he reflects on the most meaningful experiences and lessons of his life – including his childhood; his romance with his wife, Jai; his education; his role in the classroom; and his legacy for his children.
When asked about his last lecture, Pausch replied, “I knew what I was doing that day, Under the ruse of giving an academic lecture, I was trying to put myself in a bottle that would one day wash up on the beach for my children.” And what a gift he gave them.
Randy Pausch passed away on July 25, 2008.
And when he died, I cried as if I had known him my entire life. I guess this was because daily I went to his blog to check up on his condition.
Technology gave me an opportunity to peek into Pausch’s life and feel that I truly knew him. But only part of that was technology; the other part was that this was just the kind of man Pausch was.
It was as if he allowed us all to share he journey, and he made it comfortable for us. Randy often referred to his cancer as the elephant in the room.
He quickly addressed it so he and those around him could concentrate on what was important – not that he was dying but that he was alive now, and his plan was to live every second to the fullest.
He was so open and honest and so very intuitive not only about himself and his own life but also about the human condition that it moved me. As a teacher and as a parent, you owe it to yourself to read his book. It is an easy read. The chapters are short, and he is an amazing storyteller.
Check out his last lecture here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ji5_MqicxSo (If your time is limited, just watch the first three minutes…. You will get the idea of what kind of man Randy Pausch was.)
Randy Pausch has given me and many others a gift in allowing us to share his journey, his private thoughts, his struggles, and his passion for life.
For Christmas this year, give yourself a really great gift – The Last Lecture.