Sunday, September 23, 2007

Dying 47-Year-Old Professor, Randy Pausch, Gives Exuberant ‘Last Lecture’

I just finished watching an all around nifty guy, Randy Pausch's, well, probably last lecture. :-( He is currently a professor at CMU. His specialty is human-computer interaction, such as virtual reality. He has done work with Disney and EA. Among other accomplishments, his most recent is Alice, which is an innovative and pragmatic educational programming language[1]. He was recently diagnosed with a dire case of cancer. This lecture was about achieving your childhood dreams -- and helping others achieve theirs. For a guy that knows he is about to die, he's got a great attitude about his life -- and life in general. Certainly, if we're looking for people to draw clues from in living our own lives, he's up there.

His wikipedia entry already has a brief overview and link to the video of the full lecture (1h:45m or so) so no reason for me to re-invent the wheel:

Professor Randy Pausch delivered his "Last Public Lecture", entitled "Really Achieving Your Childhood Dreams" at [[Carnegie Mellon University]] on September 18, 2007 [5] (the full version of which is viewable at

During this lecture, Randy Pausch was very upbeat and humorous, rapidly switching between standup comedy, insights on computer science and engineering education, advice on building multi-disciplinary collaborations, working in groups and interacting with other people, offering inspirational life lessons, and doing one-handed push-ups on stage.

This talk was modeled after an existing series of lectures where top academics were asked to think deeply about what matters to them, and then give a hypothetical "final talk", i.e., "what wisdom would you try to impart to the world if you knew it was your last chance?" And in Randy's case, this was more than an academic exercise.

Before he even started speaking, Randy got a long standing ovation from a large crowd of over 400 colleagues and students. When he motioned them to sit down, saying "make me earn it", some in the audience shouted back "you already did!".

Andries van Dam (a professor from Brown University) followed Randy with a tearful and impassioned speech praising Randy for his courage and leadership, calling him a role model and "a Mensch" (which in Yiddish means "someone to admire and emulate, of noble character").

Electronic Arts Inc. (maker of the popular "Sims" family of computer games with over 100 million copies sold) is now commercializing Randy's Alice system (, and pledged to create in Randy's honor a memorial scholarship for women in computer science, in recognition of Randy's staunch support and mentoring of women in CS and engineering.

The president of CMU (Jared Cohon) spoke emotionally of Randy's humanity, and called Randy's contributions to CMU and to education "remarkable and stunning". He then announced that CMU will celebrate Randy's impact on the world by building and naming after Randy a raised pedestrian bridge that will connect CMU's new Computer Science building with their Center for the Arts, symbolizing the way Randy linked those two disciplines. It will be called the "Randy Pausch Memorial Footbridge".

Professor Pausch was named "Person of the Week" on ABC's World News with Charles Gibson on September 21. His last lecture has also attracted wide attention from the national media.

[1] Alice is designed to appeal to specific subpopulations not normally exposed to computer programming, such as middle school girls, by encouraging storytelling through a simple drag-and-drop interface.

1 comment:

Sara Gold said...

Some lessons from Randy Pausch’s last lecture that especially moved me:

1. Brick walls are there for a reason: they let us prove how badly we want things.
2. Experience is what you get when you didn’t get what you wanted.
3. Never lose the child-like wonder.
4. If we do something which is pioneering, we will get arrows in the back. But at the end of the day, a whole lot of people will have a whole lot of fun.
5. Be good at something; it makes you valuable.
6. If you live your life the right way, the karma will take care of itself, and the dreams will come to you.

Check out the tribute quiz on the lecture at : you can add your own questions at the end of the quiz.