Dying professor left much to all of us

Published 10:39 am Monday, August 25, 2008

Randy Pausch was a brilliant and dynamic computer science professor.

The 48-year-old teacher and researcher appeared on the national scene last September because of an inspiring “last lecture” he gave before a crowded auditorium at Carnegie Mellon University, where he taught.

His address, which he called “Achieving Your Childhood Dreams” was featured on several television shows and was published as, “The Last Lecture — A Love Story for Your Life.”

Before he died last month, the youthful and fit-looking father of three small children inspired millions with his powerful story and with reflections on his life and legacy.

As I watched the 76-minute lecture, I was deeply moved by the simplicity of the lessons this extraordinary teacher left for the world, as well as with the way he was facing what he knew was certain death.

(You can watch “The Last Lecture.” Go to http://download.srv.cs.cmu.edu/~pausch/ . I promise you will be hard pressed to find a better way to invest the time it will take you to watch it.)

I found myself asking, “If I knew I was going to die and had to sum up everything that was important to me, what would I say?”

I can’t imagine that anyone could say it any better than Pausch did.

Crediting his parents, his teachers and his mentors, he set any form of cynicism aside when he said, “it’s really not about how to achieve your dreams, it’s about how to lead your life.”

Pausch advised that we all should have fun each and every day of our lives.

“I’m dying and I’m still having fun every day I have left,” he said.

He also reminded us to “never lose your child-like wonder because it’s just so important. It’s really what drives us.”

“Help others,” Pausch insisted, “and others will help you.”

“And do you know how to get people to help you,” he asked? “By telling the truth and apologizing when you screw up.”

And he’s right. It’s that simple.

Pausch said we must show gratitude and, instead of complaining, just work harder.

He told us to be good at something, anything, because that’s what makes us valuable.

As I listened a second time to the lecture by this highly educated young man who loved his wife and children, huge stuffed animals and who wanted more than anything else to be Captain Kirk when he grew up, I realized he was instructing his own children and the rest of us about how to live, and die, courageously.

Pausch knew his time on earth is short, but that did not prevent him from living his life to the fullest each and every day he had left.

As I listened, I wondered if I could say that about my own life. Can you?

David Sullens is president of Roanoke-Chowan Publications and publisher of the Roanoke-Chowan News Herald and Gates County Index.