View Full Version : Dying Professor (Imagineering researcher & friend) delivers Lecture of a Lifetime

09-21-2007, 03:13 PM
I thought I would post this in Mousellaneous- the other day Dr. Randy Pausch, a professor at Carnegie Mellon University delivered his ultimate and literal "final lecture" because he has terminal pancreatic cancer.

Dr. Pausch is a good friend to many of us in Imagineering and if you search around for Randy Pausch you should be able to view the entire lecture online (he also made an appearance on Good Morning America and I know the ABC News website has about the first 20 minutes of his lecture). It is a very entertaining lecture and discusses his dreams which includes joining WDI (who he says sent him the nicest "go away" letters ever but used that as motivation).

CMU professor gives his last lesson on life

"If I don't seem as depressed or morose as I should be, sorry to disappoint you."

Wednesday, September 19, 2007
By Mark Roth, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

Randy Pausch set the tone early on yesterday at his farewell lecture at Carnegie Mellon University.

"If I don't seem as depressed or morose as I should be, sorry to disappoint you," said Dr. Pausch, a 46-year-old computer science professor who has incurable pancreatic cancer.

It's not that he's in denial about the fact that he only has months to live, he told the 400 listeners packed into McConomy Auditorium on the campus, and the hundreds more listening to a live Web cast.

It's more that "I am in phenomenally good health right now; it's the greatest cognitive dissonance you will ever see -- the fact is, I'm in better shape than most of you," he said.

And then, to the appreciative laughs and applause of his audience, Dr. Pausch dropped to the stage floor and did a set of pushups.

"So anyone who wants to cry or pity me can come down here and do a few of those, and then you may pity me," he said.

"What we're not going to talk about today," he continued, "is cancer, because I've spent a lot of time talking about that ... and we're not going to talk about things that are even more important, like my wife and [three preschool] kids, because I'm good, but I'm not good enough to talk about that without tearing up."

What he was there to discuss was how to fulfill your childhood dreams, and the lessons he had learned on his life's journey.

When he was a boy, Dr. Pausch said, he had a concrete set of dreams: He wanted to experience the weightlessness of zero gravity; he wanted to play football in the NFL; he wanted to write an article for the World Book Encyclopedia ("You can tell the nerds early on," he joked); he wanted to be Captain Kirk from "Star Trek"; and he wanted to work for the Disney Co.

In the end, he got to tackle all of them, he said -- even if his football accomplishments fell somewhere short of the NFL.

In his 10 years at Carnegie Mellon, Dr. Pausch helped found the Entertainment Technology Center, which one video game executive yesterday called the premier institution in the world for training students in video game and other interactive technology.

He also established an annual virtual reality contest that has become a campuswide sensation, and helped start the Alice program, an animation-based curriculum for teaching high school and college students how to have fun while learning computer programming.

It was the virtual reality work, in which participants wear a headset that puts them in an artificial digital environment, that earned him and his Carnegie Mellon students a chance to go on the U.S. Air Force plane known as the "vomit comet," which creates moments of weightlessness, and which the students promised to model with VR technology.

And even though his football career ended in high school, he said, he probably learned more from that experience than all the other childhood goals he did achieve.

Among other things, he learned the value of the coach yelling at him for his mistakes, because an assistant coach told him after one particularly brutal practice: "When you're screwing up and nobody's saying anything to you anymore, that means they've given up on you."

While he didn't get to be Captain Kirk, actor William Shatner, who played Kirk, did visit him at Carnegie Mellon in recent years.

"It's cool to meet your boyhood idol," Dr. Pausch said. "It's even cooler when he comes to you to see what you're doing in your lab."

And he got the chance to write the World Book's article on virtual reality.

Known for his flamboyance and showmanship as a teacher and mentor, Dr. Pausch talked Disney officials into letting him work on sabbatical at the company, helping design such virtual reality rides as the Magic Carpet and Pirates of the Caribbean.

More recently, he got the chance to intern with Electronic Arts, the video game company, and that relationship prompted the firm to give Carnegie Mellon the right to use its famous Sims animated characters as part of the Alice curriculum.

Near the end of his talk yesterday, Dr. Pausch surprised his wife, Jai, with a cake for her birthday on Monday, and persuaded the audience to sing for her. She managed to choke back her tears long enough to blow out the single candle on top.

To honor his life and career, Electronic Arts announced it was setting up a scholarship fund for deserving female computer science majors at Carnegie Mellon.

And the school itself said it would put his name on the footbridge that will connect the new Gates Computer Sciences Building and the Purnell Center for the Arts, symbolizing the way he linked those disciplines.

Dr. Pausch's ordeal began a year ago, when he began to feel bloated and his bowel movements changed, he said in an e-mail interview. When doctors did a CT scan to see if he had gallstones, they spotted a tumor.

"I got the news from my GP," he wrote, "who said 'There's a mass on your pancreas, and it's not fair.'

"As I later told him, it's unfortunate, and it's unlucky, but it's not unfair. As I always tell my 5-year-old, it's not 'unfair' when you don't get what you want. We all run the risk of getting hit by the cancer dart."

In a Web-based diary he kept of his treatment, Dr. Pausch concentrated on trying to improve his survival odds. He knew it would be an uphill battle. Despite improvements in treatment, the overall five-year survival rate for pancreatic cancer is just 5 percent. Even the one-year rate is only 26 percent.

The first step was surgery, which took place exactly one year ago today at UPMC Shadyside. Surgeons took out his gall bladder, a third of his pancreas, part of his stomach and several feet of small intestine.

As he recovered, Dr. Pausch discovered that M.D. Anderson Hospital in Houston was carrying out an experimental, highly toxic radiation and chemotherapy regimen for pancreatic cancer that might increase his five-year survival odds to almost 45 percent.

The treatments began in November and didn't end until the following May. The low point, he wrote, was on Christmas Day of last year: "My wife and children were in Norfolk, and I was in Houston getting poison put in my veins. I was never depressed, but that was the day I was really squeezing the lemons hard to get lemonade."

But later, less than a week after finishing chemotherapy and radiation, Dr. Pausch was playing flag football with his recreational league team again.

"First play of the game, I caught a 25-yard pass over the middle," he said in his diary. "Granted, I was sucking wind the whole game, but **** it's good to be back on the field."

In mid-summer, after tests initially showed he was clear of cancer, he added two rounds of treatment with an experimental cancer vaccine at Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore.

And then, just as he was finally feeling healthy again late last month, Dr. Pausch sent out this message to his diary readers:

"A recent CT scan showed that there are 10 tumors in my liver, and my spleen is also peppered with small tumors. The doctors say that it is one of the most aggressive recurrences they have ever seen."

He and Jai moved their family to Chesapeake, Va., so she would be near her relatives. They made initial plans for hospice care, and Dr. Pausch began palliative chemotherapy to give him some extra time.

"I find that I am completely positive," he wrote. "The only times I cry are when I think about the kids -- and it's not so much the 'Gee, I'll miss seeing their first bicycle ride' type of stuff as it is a sense of unfulfilled duty -- that I will not be there to help raise them, and that I have left a very heavy burden for my wife."

He is concentrating now on creating videos for his children. With his oldest son, 5-year-old Dylan, Dr. Pausch went on a recent trip to Disney World and to swim with dolphins, thinking Dylan may be the only child who will have strong direct memories of him.

His wife and children, he said, "mean everything to me. They give a purpose to life and a depth of joy that no job [and I've had some of the most awesome jobs in the world] can begin to provide.

"I hope my wife is able to remarry down the line. And I hope they will remember me as a man who loved them, and did everything he could for them."

09-21-2007, 04:39 PM
What a wonderful speech. Thank you for posting it.

He sounds like a great guy. I've lost two aunts to pancreatic cancer, my mother to ovarian cancer, my father has prostate cancer and my sister is a breast cancer survivor. It seems that this terrible disease touches everyone.

His young children will be in my thoughts. I hope that he can enjoy all his remaining time with them, and make some memories.

09-21-2007, 04:41 PM
Thanks for this inspiring article, Mufasa.

09-21-2007, 04:57 PM
Thanks for this inspiring article, Scar.Your Welcome. :confused:


09-21-2007, 05:11 PM
Thanks for this inspiring article, Scar.

Methinks you have confused these two Lion King brothers. ;)

What an inspiring article. Definitely made me tear up. :(

09-21-2007, 05:30 PM
Thanks for posting this, Mufasa. I'm sure that over in WDI, his absence is sorely felt.

I saw him this morning on GMA and found him to be very inspiring. Having been hit by the "cancer dart" myself, I totally identify with his outlook. However, you don't have to get hit with darts to "get" his message.

09-21-2007, 05:40 PM
Thanks for sharing Mufasa. It is nice to hear someone so positive, very inspiring.

09-21-2007, 06:23 PM
Carnegie Mellon has a site devoted to the lecture where you can stream it. There's also an email address to request a DVD copy of the lecture, which they said would be available in a couple weeks.

09-22-2007, 09:25 PM
Thank you far sharing this with us. It blessed my soul to have read this from this courageous man.

09-22-2007, 09:54 PM
Thank you for sharing this with us. I read it several times yesterday and I tried to reply to it but Icot shutdown for a while and it didn't register.

When life takes this type of unexpected turn, it is never easy to understand or take. It takes a special person to realize that it is part of "the Circle fo Life".

To each and every person that reads this, I ask that you learn from it. Do not waste a single minute of your time here on earth feeling sorry for yourself or asking "what if".

If you want something , work for it. If you love somebody, tell them. Treat every day as if it's your last. Make friends and your friends will be there for life. :hug:

10-26-2007, 12:49 PM
The DVD of the lecture is now available to order. You can also download a transcript of the lecture. I ordered my DVD today (they'll begin shipping in early November.)

10-26-2007, 01:00 PM
I saw him on Oprah on Monday, what a GREAT speach he gave!!!!!!!!! I feel truly blessed to even hear his speach, it was so inspirational. I wish I could play it for everybody in the world. He keeps such a positive attitude even though he knows he has a rough road ahead of him. What a truly incredible man!

10-26-2007, 03:46 PM
I caught the very end of his speech the other day on Oprah and really wanted to know what else I had missed. SO thanks for posting it! It is so inspiring. I just can't imagine being that accepting and calm - what wonderful grace he has.

12-03-2007, 05:17 PM
Looks like there's more to come on Pausch' Last Lecture:

Disney has final word on Randy's Last Lecture
By Philip Sherwell
Telegraph UK

It was billed as a "Last Lecture", a chance for a world expert in computer science who had just learnt he had only months to live to share his lessons on life with 400 students and colleagues.
But Randy Pausch's inspiring, upbeat and often humorous talk rapidly became an internet sensation. Video clips of his hour-long tour de force - punctuated by laughter, applause and ovations from the audience - have been viewed by more than six million people worldwide.

Now it turns out that the lecture will not be the final public words of the 47-year old academic, who is dying of pancreatic cancer. Hyperion, Walt Disney's publishing wing, is understood to have agreed a $6.75 million (£3.3 million) deal to publish "The Last Lecture" by Prof Pausch and Jeff Zaslow, the Wall Street Journal reporter who first brought the September address at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh to public attention.

The frenzied book auction was the talk of New York publishing circles last week. A deal for the British rights is close to completion and a Disney movie seems inevitable. Prof Pausch, a father of three children under six, modestly acknowledged to The Sunday Telegraph that the Last Lecture phenomenon had "taken me very much by surprise".

He set a positive tone when he declared that he had never felt physically better, and promptly dropped to the floor to do a series of double-and single-armed pushups, to an approving roar from his audience.

He then ran through his gamut of childhood dreams, from experiencing zero gravity and playing professional American football to winning stuffed animals in the amusement park and working as a Walt Disney "imaginer" (an "Imagination engineer"), and how he tried to achieve them.

When his sports coach gave him a tough time, he said, another teacher told him: "That's a good thing. When you're screwing up and nobody's saying anything to you anymore, that means they gave up." He commented: "That's a lesson that stuck with me my whole life. When you see yourself doing something badly and nobody's bothering to tell you anymore, that's a very bad place to be."

He also recounted the story of his rejection letter from Disney Imagineering after he applied for a job, armed with his newly-acquired PhD. "Remember, the brick walls are there for a reason," he said. "The brick walls are there to give us a chance to show how badly we want something."

And Prof Pausch, a world expert in videogames and virtual reality technology and creator of 'Alice', a ground-breaking software for creating 3-D animations, did indeed go to work on Disney projects including Pirates of the Caribbean.

He devoted the second chunk of the lecture to how he has helped other achieve their dreams - in his case as a professor, though the conclusions are supposed to be universal. And finally, he imparted the lessons he had learned in life from his parents, mentors, students and colleagues.

He praised his parents for allowing his young mind to run wild and allowing him to decorate his bedroom walls with mathematical notations. And he reeled off a series of mantras to live life by based on his experiences.

"Don't complain. Just work harder."

"Be good at something, it makes you valuable".

"Find the best in everybody. Everybody has a good side, just keep waiting it will come out".

"If you live your life the right way…the dreams will come to you."

Prof Pausch still struggles to explain why so many people had been excited by his lecture. "Obviously, the fact that I'm dying and leaving something for my kids that others are also viewing is fairly novel," he said. "And some people may be finding value in my giving old-fashioned advice in a way that doesn't strike people as 'old-fashioned'".

He was persuaded to go ahead with the book project by his wife, Jai, as it "would help draw out stuff that's in my head that will go away when I die. And she really wanted that stuff out where she and the kids could see it." He said the flood of emails from across the world had also won him around.

The book will, of course, help provide financial security for his young family - his boys, aged five and two, and one-year old daughter. But even more important for him is that they will learn more about his life and thoughts. And that was the point all along, as he told his riveted audience with his closing words. "The talk's not for you, it's for my kids. Thank you all, good night."

01-09-2008, 05:20 PM
Mufasa, thanks for posting about this. I finally received my DVD of the lecture before Christmas and sat down to watch it yesterday. It was great! I wish I'd been able to take a class from Dr. Pausch! I'm really looking forward to the book now (Amazon has it listed as being out in April 2008.)

01-09-2008, 06:26 PM
Simply Amazing!

04-07-2008, 05:50 AM
Just a couple of updates to this thread:

Professor Pausch's book The Last Lecture (co-authored by Jeffrey Zaslow- a reporter for the WSJ who wrote about the lecture at Carnegie Mellon) goes on sale at bookstores April 8th.

Then on April 9th at 10p/9c ABC is airing a program with Dr. Pausch and Diane Sawyer called The Last Lecture: a love story for your life

As for Dr. Pausch's current condition- about a month ago he was hospitalized after the intense chemotherapy had become just too toxic for his kidneys and also put some strain on his heart. They've since suspended the systemic chemo, and there's been the development of an 11th tumor but since the tumors are in his liver they think they can try to target it with some liver specific treatments and his heart and kidney functions are showing signs of recovery.

On the positive side, considering that doctors said he'd have 3-6 months of good health from his diagnosis, he's already passed the 6 month mark and considers that everything at this point is extra bonus time and though there have been side effects, he's still fighting and trying to make the most of the time he has.

04-08-2008, 03:35 PM
Wow ... The notion that someone could handle the impending end of his life on Earth with such grace, calm, and dignity is almost unbelieveable to me. What a special person.

It's even more difficult to believe for someone with children so small. I can tell you definitively that if this was me, I would find the idea that my own children would probably grow up and not even remember me just intolerable. I would be incredibly bitter and angry.

My best wishes go out to Mr. Pausch and his family ... I'll hope for a miracle even in the face of such overwhelming odds. If he can do it, I can too.

04-10-2008, 12:25 AM
Mufasa, thank you for the follow up on this story. I saw the Diane Sawyer interview tonight, and it was incredibly inspiring. It truly made me think about what I next need to do in my life!

I'm so embarrassed about the "other brother" reference - I guess I was more shaken up than I thought when I first read the story!