Posted by: James Shaddock | Monday 28th July 2008

Death of a Hero

This morning I learnt that one of my heroes had died last Friday.

Randy Pausch was not a world leader, a politician or a Nobel Peace Prize Laureate. He was just a humble computer science professor from Carnegie Mellon University, who was considered one of the best in his field of virtual reality.  It was not for this that he was one of my heroes though, but for the something he did called ‘The Last Lecture’.

‘The Last Lecture’ is a Carnegie Mellon tradition in which a member of the university’s faculty gives a lecture on any topic the wish, giving lessons about life that they’d learnt, as if it is their last before they die. The difference with Randy Pausch’s was that he was going to die.

He was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer in August 2006 and found out it had become terminal a year later, a month before giving his ‘Last Lecture’.

Pausch’s Last Lecture was entitled ‘Really Achieving Your Childhood Dreams’, and it’s underlying theme was about how we should never let go of our dreams and how life helps you achieve them if you do the the little things in life that helps it.  Such things include determination

“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”

and honesty

“You get people to help you by telling the truth; by being earnest. I’ll take an earnest person over a hip person every day, because hip is short-term, earnest is long term”

Throughout the lecture, Pausch tells stories of his childhood dreams and how he came to realise them. These include working as a Disney Imagineer (they create the rides at Disney World), which he did as a virtual reality consultant and experiencing zero gravity, which he achieved thanks to some of his students winning a NASA contest.  All of this and more stems from Randy Pausch’s simple belief in the sincerity of humanity to achieve anything and everything that we wish, made more moving by the fact he’s dying while imparting this wisdom.

The world learnt of Pausch, his lecture and his story thanks to Jeffrey Zaslow, a Wall Street Journal columnist and Carnegie Mellon graduate who attend the lecture on hearing about the circumstances around it. He wrote a column on it, linking it to the video of it (see below). The results were appearances on Good Morning America and Oprah, where he gave a shortened version of ‘Really Achieving Your Childhood Dreams’, a TV special and a $6.7millon book deal.

Pausch has become a phenomenon since last September, inspiring people from all walks of life, and I’m sure he died as upbeat and happy as he was throughout his life, knowing that he made a difference. I know he did to me, as I discovered ‘The Last Lecture’ at a time when I was low in spirits about myself and my work at university and for that I thank him.

Below is the video of the The Last Lecture and ask that you watch it, because if you ever doubted yourself or those around you, this will change your outlook on life.

Randy Pausch, 1960-2008,  RIP


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