Saturday, June 23, 2012

"The Last Lecture" by Randy Pausch: A Dying Man Tells Us How to Live

Randy Pausch
Last night a book on my wife's nightstand caught my eye.  It was "The Last Lecture" by Randy Pausch.  Intrigued, I picked it and started reading.  I finished it this morning.

Randy Pausch was a professor of computer science at Carnegie Mellon University.  He specialized in computer graphics and virtual reality.  Many of his graduated students went on to work in 3D animation and computer graphics; one went to work for George Lucas (and was heavily involved in the graphics for Star Wars episodes) and others for Walt Disney's Imagineers.  Still other students made various and important contributions to the science of computer graphics, including the free program "Alice," which is used to teach the programming needed for 3D animations.  (You can download it for free here.)

Randy taught his students to create visual worlds of imagination.  This really echoed with my recent posts on how I like to create imaginary scenes with Photoshop.  Some of my Photoshops have yielded new or improved banners for bloggers.  My work, of course, is like a kindergartner's efforts compared to the digital output of Pausch's students.  However, Pausch's message works for me too, which is to realize as many of your childhood dreams as you can.  As a child I loved to draw, and today computer graphics is my favorite medium for artistic expression.

In Randy's 47th year of life he was diagnosed with incurable pancreatic cancer.  He was given six months to live.  This was a terrible blow to him and his young family.  Realizing that he would not live to see his three children grow up, Randy created videos and wrote letters to his children to read in later life, when he was gone.  He wanted his children to know who their father was, to have memories of him, and to know how much he loved them.

Randy wanted to give one "Last Lecture" to students and faculty of Carnegie Mellon, so he did -- giving a 70 minute lecture on life, what his life and friends and family meant to him, what he had learned from life, and what wisdom he wanted to pass on to others before he left this world.  The lecture was filmed and is available on the web for anyone who wants to watch it.

Randy also wrote the book, "The Last Lecture," making many of the same points of his last speech, telling about his life from childhood on, and his relationship with his wife, Jai.  He writes well and his book was compelling -- I devoured it.  Far from being a downer,  the book is filled with optimism and humor.  I finished the book feeling up, positive and with a greater appreciation for life and its possibilities.  The book became a national best seller and I highly recommend it.

Randy faced his death with courage, class and dignity.  He died of his disease on July 25, 2008.

Randy has a website here.  You can watch videos of Randy here, including "the Last Lecture."

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