Friday, August 29, 2008

Plow Down the Brick Walls: Randy Pausch

Murphy's law and enlightenment go hand in hand down a yellow brick path that branches off to side-roads towards acceptance, change, and fulfillment; Carnegie Mellon professor Randy Pausch took this scary, yet enchanting walk. Along the way, he picked up millions of followers, all eagerly willing to be taught how to live life battling the walls erected when society, an individual, or a mere uneasy feeling attempts to thwart a person from chasing their dreams.

Dr. Randy Pausch, a professor of computer science at Carnegie Mellon University, a leading institute in robotics technologies, recently passed away this summer from terminal pancreatic cancer. When the loving husband and father of three young children first learned of his ailment in September of 2006, he was told the unthinkable with a very positive twist.

“You probably have three to six months of good health,” said Dr. Wolff, as quoted from Pausch's bestselling novel, The Last Lecture, which is a follow-up to his highly acclaimed presentation, now featured online.

Pausch was surprised at how well attuned the medical staff was to speaking of negative outcomes in a calm, reasonable light. Instead of worrying about himself, in the book he spoke of sitting in the waiting room with his wife, Jai, thinking random thoughts such as, “Shouldn't a room like this, at a time like this, have a box of Kleenex? Wow, that's a glaring operational flaw.”

That was the kind of person Randy Pausch was; he simply couldn't drone on the fact that he would soon have to part with his loved ones and colleagues. Being a professor and having the ability to embark knowledge upon others, he was given a chance to do a 'last lecture.' He told his wife Jai, “I have a chance here to really think about what matters most to me, to cement how people will remember me, and to do whatever good I can on my way out.”

Made viewable to the public on-line by Carnegie Mellon, viewers are allowed to watch the lecture in full length.

In the video, he walked into McConomy Auditorium at Carnegie Mellon on September 18th, 2007 with the entire audience on their toes applauding loudly, Pausch, adorning a Disney Imagineer work shirt and name tag, shushed the applause with a humble, “Make me earn it.” Deep within the audience, a man shouted, “You did.”

His presentation, entitled “Really Achieving Your Childhood Dreams,” began by Pausch introducing the 'elephant in the room'. Projected up onto a screen were the cat scans of his tumor-filled liver: ten to be exact. “If I don't seem as depressed or morose as I should be, sorry to disappoint you,” said Pausch. “I assure you, I'm not in denial.” Showing the audience how physically in shape he really was, he got down onto the floor and started doing an elaborate set of push-ups.

In the entire one hour and 16 minutes, this was the only time Pausch brought his ailment to hindsight. His discussion centered around his childhood dreams, and how he has been able to enable the dreams of others. With lessons involved, Pausch urged others how to reach their own dreams, and spoke of how we can help push others to succeed theirs as well.

Pausch's childhood dreams were captivating: being in zero gravity, playing in the NFL, authoring an article in the World Book Encyclopedia (growing up, his family had owned the entire collection), being Captain Kirk, winning the giant stuffed animals at theme parks, and becoming a Disney Imagineer. Separating him from accomplishing these however, were 'brick walls.' “The brick walls are there for a reason,” Pausch explained. “They let us prove how badly we want things.”

For Pausch, these came in all forms: his difficult yet fundamentally driven old school football coach, Disney executives refusing him in the most polite 'go to hell' letters ever written, college administrators who wouldn't let him go on sabbatical to Disney, the 'happiest place on earth,' and countless others. Pausch believed that his parents, and his wife Jai, were the reason why he was so successful; he explained how they never let him off easy, so fighting for what he wanted was the only way to make it happen. “Experience is what you get when you didn't get what you wanted,” said Pausch in his memoir.

While he certainly checked off all of his dreams on his 'to-do' list (Pausch didn't become Captain Kirk, but he got to meet and show William Shatner the virtual reality work him and his students were creating) he gave the shiniest coins of inspiration one could ever give: really amazing quotes. Pausch admits to loving quoting others, especially his father. “When you have someone like my dad in your back pocket, you can't help yourself,” he said. “You quote him every chance you get.”

The Last Lecture, both the video and his book, has been watched and read by millions all over the globe. Pausch even had a website, where he tried to blog everyday, keeping everyone updated on his progress, and about any 'cool new things' he got to experience. “I'm not going to stop having fun because I'm dying,” he said. “I'm going to have fun everyday.” On May 18th, 2008, he gave the commencement speech to Carnegie Mellon graduates. It was as expected, another Pausch gemstone; in the end, he whisks his wife off of his feet and gives her a big kiss.

Pausch followers dreaded, yet expected the day to come where the world would be informed of the passing of the wonderful man who catapulted through life without limitations. Sadly that day arrived on July 25th, 2008, and remorse was felt by everyone who had learned of Pausch. It didn't matter that most had never met him; there are no boundaries when it comes to being touched and feeling for others. What Pausch did hope to pass on through everyone else, is how to treat others the way they should be treated, and to never give up on yourself, or others.

"You just have to decide if you're a Tigger or an Eeyore."

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