"My dad always taught me that when there's an elephant in the room, introduce them," said Randy Pausch, the 46 year old Carnegie-Mellon University professor during his very unusual "Last Lecture." I first heard this story on the CBS Evening News as Steve Harper told the miraculous and melancholy story. We've all had to watch people we love go through illnesses, lose them to death or walk through death on earth. But I don't think I've ever seen anything quite like this. That's where the miraculous comes in. Grace under pressure? Professor Pausch personifies the term.
"Last Lectures" have become popular on college campuses. The professor speaks as if it were really his last lecture on Earth and he must deliver all the wisdom he possesses to his students. Forty-six-year-old Pausch, diagnosed with incurable pancreatic cancer just last year and now given months to live, told it with laughter, tears, genius and dark humor on September 18, 2007.
One of the world's most innovative educators and foremost authorities on Virtual Reality, his lecture titled "Achieving Your Childhood Dreams" was given to a packed house, his wife and young children in the audience. Looking well and energetic, even dropping to the floor for pushups, he gave me a lot to think about; a plateful to ponder and questions to ask myself. Have I said all I want to say to the people I love? Every last little bit? Everytime? In every situation? Past and present? Are there people in my past who deserve an explanation or a hug or a "I understand and love you anyway" from me? I've included links at the bottom of this page if you'd like to see the professor's take on life - as he is dying. As I watched it and read the transcript I had to ask myself this question above all else concerning authenticity - a subject that has permeated my psyche and spirit lately in all areas of my life and on this blog - "Have I given an authentic voice to who I am?"
Here are a few of my favorite tidbits from Randy's lecture and a bit about why they are important to me:
Randy Pausch on excellence: "When you see yourself doing something badly and nobody's bothering to tell you anymore, that's a very bad place to be. Your critics are the ones telling you they still love you and care."
On Life:"Experience is what you get when you didn't get what you wanted."
On Academia:"The best gift an educator can give is to get somebody to become self-reflective."
On Romance: Quoting a former female colleague who told him "....when it comes to men that are romantically interested in you, it's really simple. Just ignore everything they say and only pay attention to what they do. It's that simple. It's that easy."Randy said he thought back to his bachelor days and said, "Damn!" to roars of laughter. I love this quote. It is so very true.
On his legacy: Speaking of his brainchild "Alice" a game that teaches kids computer programming by allowing them to create mini movies (he coined the phrase "head fake" which means students are learning a difficult concept but they think they're learning something else) he realized the updated software curriculum will debut in 2008 and he will have to leave it for others to finish
...."I, like Moses, get to see the promised land but I won't get to set foot in it. And that's Ok because I can see it. And the vision is clear.....to the extent that you can live on in something, I will live on in Alice."
Wonder what my legacy will be? Is it clearly in my head now? It should be and at this age I should be living it instead of dreaming it.
And then, remarkably, his friends and colleagues said their academic goodbyes and showed him the planned addition of a bridge to the Computer Science building which will be named for him. "There'll be a generation of faculty and students who will not know you, but they will cross that bridge, they will see your name, and they will ask those of us who did know you. And we will tell them that unfortunately they were not able to experience the man, but they are surely experiencing the impact of the man. Randy, thank you for all you've done for Carnegie-Mellon. We're going to miss you."
How extraordinary to be memoralized while looking on. Somehow, "virtual reality" takes on a new meaning.
But my favorite quote from Randy Pausch was On Living: "Never lose the childlike wonder.
It's just too important. It's what drives us."
What an extraordinary human being. We wish him healing and joy.
Here's a 4 minute clip from that lecture on Google video if you're interested and other links. http://www.post-gazette.com/pg/07262/818608-298.stm
THe TRANSCRIPT: http://www.cs.cmu.edu/~pausch/Randy/pauschlastlecturetranscript.pdf