A “last lecture” on living your life to the fullest

I just got done reading this piece about Carnegie Mellon University Professor Randy Pausch, who participated earlier this week in what’s called “The Last Lecture Series” – a series that is becoming more and more popular at colleges around the country, according to the WSJ:

This is a common title for talks on college campuses today. Schools such as Stanford and the University of Alabama have mounted “Last Lecture Series,” in which top professors are asked to think deeply about what matters to them and to give hypothetical final talks. For the audience, the question to be mulled is this: What wisdom would we impart to the world if we knew it was our last chance?

But for Professor Pausch, a father of three, this really will be his last lecture. He’s dying of pancreatic cancer, and only has a few more months to live. He doesn’t want anyone’s pity, though. Instead, he lectured earlier this week on how to live your life to the fullest by taking it by the reigns and going for it:

He began by showing his CT scans, revealing 10 tumors on his liver. But after that, he talked about living. If anyone expected him to be morose, he said, “I’m sorry to disappoint you.” He then dropped to the floor and did one-handed pushups.

Clicking through photos of himself as a boy, he talked about his childhood dreams: to win giant stuffed animals at carnivals, to walk in zero gravity, to design Disney rides, to write a World Book entry. By adulthood, he had achieved each goal. As proof, he had students carry out all the huge stuffed animals he’d won in his life, which he gave to audience members. After all, he doesn’t need them anymore.

He paid tribute to his techie background. “I’ve experienced a deathbed conversion,” he said, smiling. “I just bought a Macintosh.” Flashing his rejection letters on the screen, he talked about setbacks in his career, repeating: “Brick walls are there for a reason. They let us prove how badly we want things.” He encouraged us to be patient with others. “Wait long enough, and people will surprise and impress you.” After showing photos of his childhood bedroom, decorated with mathematical notations he’d drawn on the walls, he said: “If your kids want to paint their bedrooms, as a favor to me, let ’em do it.”

While displaying photos of his bosses and students over the years, he said that helping others fulfill their dreams is even more fun than achieving your own. He talked of requiring his students to create videogames without sex and violence. “You’d be surprised how many 19-year-old boys run out of ideas when you take those possibilities away,” he said, but they all rose to the challenge.

He also saluted his parents, who let him make his childhood bedroom his domain, even if his wall etchings hurt the home’s resale value. He knew his mom was proud of him when he got his Ph.D, he said, despite how she’d introduce him: “This is my son. He’s a doctor, but not the kind who helps people.”

He then spoke about his legacy. Considered one of the nation’s foremost teachers of videogame and virtual-reality technology, he helped develop “Alice,” a Carnegie Mellon software project that allows people to easily create 3-D animations. It had one million downloads in the past year, and usage is expected to soar.

ABC News also did a feature on him:

“I’ve never understood pity and self-pity as an emotion,” Pausch told Diane Sawyer on “Good Morning America” today. “We have a finite amount of time. Whether short or long, it doesn’t matter. Life is to be lived.”

You can watch the full video of Professor Pausch’s extremely moving and inspiring lecture here.

The WSJ has a five minute, narrated clip here:

We’ve all had times in our lives where we’ve been down, frustrated, felt like there’s no hope, or have been scared to take that next big step. Randy Pausch’s message is that whether you have a lot of time left or just a little, you only live once and you must do so by grabbing the bull by the horns and following your dreams, and not letting those “brick walls” get in your way.

His zest for life and his “don’t feel sorry for me” attitude are uplifting and inspiring. May God bless you, Professor Pausch. I feel like a better person already from learning about you today, and I know I’m not the only one.

Hat tip: Tammy Bruce

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