Beyond Blue

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From the editors of Beliefnet …

The 2008 Most Inspiring Person of the Year is Randy Pausch, the professor who, facing imminent death from pancreatic cancer, delivered a “last lecture” that inspired people to live every day to the fullest and to achieve their dreams. Pausch’s lecture was delivered to a small audience at Carnegie Mellon University, yet it became an internet phenomenon that has transformed lives around the globe. His now-famous lecture, along with related videos, has been viewed by almost 20 million people. Even after his passing in July, 2008, his powerful yet simple message continues to inspire us: “We cannot control the cards we’re dealt, just how we play the hand.”

Every year for the last nine years, Beliefnet has recognized 10 people whose outstanding humanitarian actions inspire and encourage us all to live better lives. This year we were again amazed by the courage, compassion, and selflessness of the nominees.

Our community and our editors were presented with a tough choice.

Some nominees were already well known. Paul Newman, who died this year, could have rested on his Oscar laurels, but instead devoted much of his time to helping seriously ill kids enjoy childhood through his Hole in the Wall Gang Camps. Christina Applegate, who makes us laugh on “Samantha Who?,” underwent a double mastectomy and now helps other women with breast cancer find treatment and support. Dara Torres became the oldest swimming medalist in Olympics history and gave an unselfish assist to a rival before a race.

Some less renowned nominees showed exceptional courage. Marine Master Sergeant William “Spanky” Gibson lost his leg in combat in Iraq, but trained himself to excel on a prosthetic leg and insisted on returning to duty. Dr. Halima Bashir, who saved girls’ lives in Darfur, was raped and tortured herself. Despite threats on her life, she continues speaks out against violence in her country.

Educator Darin Headrick spearheaded the building of “green” schools in his tornado-devastated town of Greensburg, Kansas–giving families a reason to stay and rebuild their lives. Brain researcher Dr. Jill Bolte Taylor, who survived a massive stroke, used her experience to deepen her spirituality and share her insights with other stroke survivors.

On the last day of voting, three champions stood out to our community. The three finalists were Steven Curtis Chapman, the heroic Boy Scouts, and Prof. Randy Pausch.

Chapman, a beloved Christian music star, had long been a passionate advocate of adoption, inspiring thousands of families to provide homes for children from China. He underwent a tremendous tragedy this year when his adopted daughter Maria Sue was accidentally run over by his teenage son. Chapman held his family together through faith and faced the inevitable media attention with courage, serving as a model for suffering parents everywhere.

The heroic Boy Scouts of the Midwest withstood a killer tornado that struck their encampment in Iowa while they were at a leadership training. The young teens, who called on the skills they had learned in scouting, saved many of their fellow scouts, forming mini-triage centers and refusing to panic. Tragically, four of the boys died. Our community recognized these youngsters for their courage and steadfastness under the most challenging conditions.

But in the end the editors selected Dr. Randy Pausch, the professor who, facing imminent death from pancreatic cancer, delivered a “last lecture” that inspired millions of people to live every day more consciously and achieve their dreams.

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