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On my flight to Greece, I read the most extraordinary article in the WSJ about a man now becoming justly popular on the Internet: Randy Pausch. At 46 years old, he’s dying of cancer and his farewell speech to his students is becoming must viewing.
Clicking through photos of himself as a boy, he talked about his childhood dreams: to win giant stuffed animals at carnivals, to walk in zero gravity, to design Disney rides, to write a World Book entry. By adulthood, he had achieved each goal. As proof, he had students carry out all the huge stuffed animals he’d won in his life, which he gave to audience members. After all, he doesn’t need them anymore.He paid tribute to his techie background. “I’ve experienced a deathbed conversion,” he said, smiling. “I just bought a Macintosh.” Flashing his rejection letters on the screen, he talked about setbacks in his career, repeating: “Brick walls are there for a reason. They let us prove how badly we want things.” He encouraged us to be patient with others. “Wait long enough, and people will surprise and impress you.” After showing photos of his childhood bedroom, decorated with mathematical notations he’d drawn on the walls, he said: “If your kids want to paint their bedrooms, as a favor to me, let ’em do it.”
While displaying photos of his bosses and students over the years, he said that helping others fulfill their dreams is even more fun than achieving your own. He talked of requiring his students to create videogames without sex and violence. “You’d be surprised how many 19-year-old boys run out of ideas when you take those possibilities away,” he said, but they all rose to the challenge.
He also saluted his parents, who let him make his childhood bedroom his domain, even if his wall etchings hurt the home’s resale value. He knew his mom was proud of him when he got his Ph.D, he said, despite how she’d introduce him: “This is my son. He’s a doctor, but not the kind who helps people.”
He then spoke about his legacy. Considered one of the nation’s foremost teachers of videogame and virtual-reality technology, he helped develop “Alice,” a Carnegie Mellon software project that allows people to easily create 3-D animations. It had one million downloads in the past year, and usage is expected to soar.
“Like Moses, I get to see the Promised Land, but I don’t get to step foot in it,” Dr. Pausch said. “That’s OK. I will live on in Alice.”
And then, that same day, I received this email:
After reading your most recent books, I just had to write to you with thanks for providing me with insight and inspiration.
I am in the final weeks of my life, passing away from a very aggressive cancer. I am 46 years old, with a wife and two children; and have fought this cancer for over one year. But unfortunately this type of cancer is not easy to defeat. Recently a young man, who had published a blog, has died from a very similar cancer type; Miles Levin. This was covered on CNN, and lead many of us to read his messages and receive inspiration and comfort from his experience and evolving outlook as he passed through the process.
Please know that your gift of writing, and sharing through these books, has greatly helping me through this difficult process. I have been writing my blog since receiving a diagnosis of lung metastasis in May of this year. The blog address is:
Thank you so much.
Thank you, Brent. You have left an extraordinary legacy for all of us, and for your children. Godspeed.