Wednesday, May 21, 2008

St. Randy of Pittsburgh

Was it a true story or just another one of those urban legends: a young beloved college professor had been given a diagnosis of terminal cancer and had decided to give one last lecture to his students? It turns out to be true – and in one of the better uses of free online video sharing a recording of the lecture is available for anyone to watch. But before I could do that I picked up a copy of the book The Last Lecture by Randy Pausch thinking it would be a transcript of the lecture. That turned out not to be the case – but well worth reading in its own right.

The beloved college professor in question is Randy Pausch and he did give a final lecture at Carnegie Mellon in the Fall of 2007. The book fills in some of the background of his life, career and diagnosis as well as his decision to give this last lecture. Subsequent to giving the lecture Pausch had a series of 53 cell phone conversations with the book’s co-author, Jeffrey Zaslow, while riding his bike around the neighborhood as part of getting the required exercise. The book captures the essence of those conversations.

I have no reason not to believe that everything in the book is true; but if only a small fraction of it were so, this is a truly remarkable man. His students and colleagues have been given a very special gift in their associations with him. What to say about the loss to his 3 young children? But with this book he has left them (and us) a valuable testament and guide.

The actual recording of the lecture is available at Pausch’s website. There are several versions: I recommend watching the version on RealPlayer that is 1 hour and 44 minutes as it includes an introduction and some very special recognitions of Pausch after the speech. I also recommend that if possible you read the book first and then watch the lecture. I was especially gratified to learn of his special interest in getting young girls interested in math and science particularly computer science.

Pausch is now beyond the original 3 – 6 months that he was given to live but there is no reason to hope that he has escaped his sentence. And he continues to live and die in plain sight through his blog – also available through his website. What an inspiring example of how to live one’s life!

Update: Randy Pausch died in July 2008

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