Achieving Your Childhood Dreams
By Peter Connor
Randy Pausch: 2007 Carnegie Mellon "Last Lecture" Series
"We cannot change the cards we are dealt, just how we play the hand."
On September 18, 2007, Randy Pausch, Carnegie Mellon computer science professor and renowned creator of the very popular educational software tool, Alice, stood before an audience of 400 university students and faculty colleagues delivering his contribution to the Carnegie Mellon "Last Lecture" series.
Coincidentally, he was dying of pancreatic cancer, a fact that had absolutely nothing to with his appearance. The diagnosis was barely a month old when Pausch delivered his lecture. The prestigious invitation had came, and been accepted, far in advance.
In his opening remarks, Pausch evoked the memory of his father, recalling a bit of advice: "When there are elephants in the room," his father had told him, "introduce them." Flashing across the big screen behind him were the CAT scan images of the 10 tumors in his liver. He told his audience of the prognosis that left him no more than 3 to 6 months, after which he would steadily decline.
Pausch also told them that, for now, he was "in phenomenally good health…in really good shape. In fact, in better shape than most…." Beside the podium he did a few one-handed push-ups and then, to those expecting him to be depressed or morose, he apologized—somewhat tongue-in-cheek—for disappointing them.
After introducing the elephants in the room, Pausch sent them packing. He took pancreatic cancer off the table and spent the next hour speaking of his childhood dreams and how he had gone about achieving each of them and what a blast he’d had in the doing.
He acknowledged and explored the major milestones in his life and paid tribute to the people who had been important to him and who had enabled him on his journey.
Pausch also spoke of the good fortune he’d had in being able to enable others in the achievement of their dreams, and that in the doing it was perhaps he who’d had the most fun. He was charming and engaging and drew more than a few laughs.
He closed with the comment that the lecture—which had been videotaped—was not for them, but for his two kids. It was a powerful speech.
Ten months later, on July 25, 2008, Randy Pausch died, as he knew he would. He was 47.
Shortly after delivering his "Last Lecture," the videotape Randy Pausch made for his two kids found its way into cyberspace, hitting the YouTube charts and making him an Internet star. Millions have been touched.
*Learn more about Randy Pausch.