Randolf Frederick Pausch, the Carnegie Mellon University professor whose final lecture about the importance of achieving one’s childhood dreams became an Internet sensation and best-selling book, died on July 25 of pancreatic cancer. He was 47.
The Baltimore native wanted to do many things with his life. As a child, he wrote a list of the dreams he hoped to someday achieve including: walk in zero gravity, write an entry in the World Book Encyclopedia, win stuffed animals, be like Captain Kirk and become an Imagineer for Disney. Pausch accomplished all but the Star Trek-inspired dream, though he did get to meet William Shatner, the actor who played Kirk. “It’s really cool to meet your boyhood idol,” Pausch once said. “But it’s even cooler when he comes to you to see what cool stuff you’re doing…That was just a great moment.”
Pausch graduated from Brown University and earned his doctorate in computer science from Carnegie Mellon. After teaching at the University of Virginia, he joined the faculty of Carnegie Mellon in 1997. For the next decade, Pausch taught popular classes in computer science, virtual reality and world building. He also helped launch the Alice project, an innovative 3-D environment that teaches computer programming through stories and games.
Pausch first came into the public eye in September 2007 when he gave his final lecture at Carnegie Mellon in front of 400 students and colleagues. Wall Street Journal columnist Jeffrey Zaslow wrote a feature article about “the lecture of a lifetime,” and a video version of the inspirational speech soon appeared on YouTube. Millions of people sat in front of their computers and watched the 76-minute lecture, then shared it with others in e-mails and blogs. Pausch later gave an abridged version of his speech on “The Oprah Winfrey Show.” ABC News named him as one of its three “Persons of the Year,” and Time magazine listed him in its “100 Most Influential People” issue.
At the urging of his wife, Jai, Pausch decided to compile his advice into a book, titled “The Last Lecture.” He didn’t want the writing process to take away time spent with his three children, however, so he dictated the chapters to co-author Zaslow while riding his exercise bike each day. Fifty-three bike rides/conversations turned into a manuscript, which was published this spring.
In March, Pausch spoke before Congress on behalf of the Pancreatic Cancer Network. He shared a picture of his family and urged lawmakers to help fund research needed to fight pancreatic cancer, which is considered by the medical community to be the most deadly form of the disease. Pausch was diagnosed with it in August 2007. Although doctors predicted Pausch had about six month to live, he made it five months past that deadline.
Pausch’s final lecture shall serve as his true obituary:
Read the chapter left out of Pausch’s book.