Randy Pausch

This beloved professor's "last lecture" video circled the globe and inspired millions to live their dreams.

Most Inspiring person of the year

Lots of professors give talks facetiously dubbed "last lectures"--neatly packaged summations of their life's work, usually given while they still have lives to live and work to do.

But for Randy Pausch, a computer science professor at Carnegie Mellon University, his last lecture was the real thing. At 46, Pausch was suffering from metastasized pancreatic cancer. He expected to live only a few months when he took the stage before 400 students and fellow faculty in Sept. 2007.

The title of his lecture: "How to Achieve Your Childhood Dreams."

"I'm dying and I'm having fun," he said, distilling what he learned in fulfilling so many of his goals--to experience zero gravity, to be a Disney Imagineer, to write a World Book Encyclopedia entry. "And I'm going to keep having fun every day, because there's no other way to play it."

Pausch died on July 25, 2008. By the time he was gone, his advice touched millions of people, many who wrote to him to say they were inspired by him to change their lives. Some wrote that he had turned them from addiction or suicide. One woman said he inspired her to leave an abusive relationship. A terminally ill man wrote that he was going to pattern the rest of his days after Pausch's.

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Randy Pausch is nominated as one of Beliefnet's Most Inspiring this year because at a time when many people would have retreated into self-pity and isolation, he reached out with the best part of himself so that the rest of us could live as fully as he had.

Among the lessons Pausch imparted:

* "Brick walls are there for a reason. They let us prove how badly we want things."

* When a narrow-minded dean refused to let Pausch work for Disney during a sabbatical, he went over the man's head. In the end, Disney offered him a permanent position.

* "Don't complain, just work harder." No one ever heard Jackie Robinson complain. And Pausch began his lecture by insisting no one pity him. Then he did one-handed push-ups on the stage.

* "If your kids want to paint their bedrooms, as a favor to me, let 'em do it…. Don't worry about resale value." Pausch's parents let him paint all sorts of things on his walls--math equations, spaceships, doodles. They are still there today, he said.

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Kimberly Winston
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