A Shrewdness of Apes

An Okie teacher banished to the Midwest. "Education is not the filling a bucket but the lighting of a fire."-- William Butler Yeats

Friday, July 25, 2008

The Passing of a Great Teacher: Randy Pausch, 1960-2008

Carngie Mellon Computer science professor Randy Pausch passed away this morning, from pancreatic cancer.
PITTSBURGH (July 25) -- Randy Pausch, a Carnegie Mellon University computer scientist whose "last lecture" about facing terminal cancer became an Internet sensation and a best-selling book, has died. He was 47.

Pausch died early Friday at his home in Virginia, university spokeswoman Anne Watzman said. Pausch and his family moved there last fall to be closer to his wife's relatives.

Pausch was diagnosed with incurable pancreatic cancer in September 2006. His popular last lecture at Carnegie Mellon in September 2007 garnered international attention and was viewed by millions on the Internet.

In it, Pausch celebrated living the life he had always dreamed of instead of concentrating on impending death.

"The lecture was for my kids, but if others are finding value in it, that is wonderful," Pausch wrote on his Web site. "But rest assured; I'm hardly unique."

The book "The Last Lecture," written with Jeffrey Zaslow, leaped to the top of the nonfiction best-seller lists after its publication in April and remains there this week. Pausch said he dictated the book to Zaslow, a Wall Street Journal writer, by cell phone. The book deal was reported to be worth more than $6 million.

At Carnegie Mellon, he was a professor of computer science, human-computer interaction and design, and was recognized as a pioneer of virtual reality research. On campus, he became known for his flamboyance and showmanship as a teacher and mentor.

The speech last fall was part of a series Carnegie Mellon called "The Last Lecture," where professors were asked to think about what matters to them most and give a hypothetical final talk. The name of the lecture series was changed to "Journeys" before Pausch spoke, something he joked about in his lecture.

"I thought, damn, I finally nailed the venue and they renamed it," he said.

He told the packed auditorium he fulfilled almost all his childhood dreams — being in zero gravity, writing an article in the World Book Encyclopedia and working with the Walt Disney Co.

The one that eluded him? Playing in the National Football League.

"If I don't seem as depressed or morose as I should be, sorry to disappoint you," Pausch said.

He then joked about his quirky hobby of winning stuffed animals at amusement parks — another of his childhood dreams — and how his mother introduced him to people to keep him humble: "This is my son, he's a doctor, but not the kind that helps people."

Pausch said he was embarrassed and flattered by the popularity of his message. Millions viewed the complete or abridged version of the lecture, titled "Really Achieving Your Childhood Dreams," online.

Pausch lobbied Congress for more federal funding for pancreatic cancer research and appeared on "Oprah" and other TV shows. In what he called "a truly magical experience," he was even invited to appear as an extra in the new "Star Trek" movie.
He had one line of dialogue, got to keep his costume and donated his $217.06 paycheck to charity.

Pausch blogged regularly about his medical treatment. On Feb. 15, exactly six months after he was told he had three to six months of healthy living left, Pausch posted a photo of himself to show he was "still alive & healthy."

"I rode my bike today; the cumulative effects of the chemotherapy are hurting my stamina some, but I bet I can still run a quarter mile faster than most Americans," he wrote.

Pausch gave one more lecture after his Carnegie Mellon appearance — in November at the University of Virginia, where he had taught from 1988 to 1997.

Pausch often emphasized the need to have fun.

"I mean I don't know how to not have fun. I'm dying and I'm having fun. And I'm going to keep having fun every day I have left. Because there's no other way to play it," he said in his Carnegie Mellon lecture. "You just have to decide if you're a Tigger or an Eeyore. I think I'm clear where I stand on the great Tigger/Eeyore debate. Never lose the childlike wonder. It's just too important. It's what drives us."

Born in 1960, Pausch received his bachelor's degree in computer science from Brown University and his Ph.D. from Carnegie Mellon.

He co-founded Carnegie Mellon's Entertainment Technology Center, a master's program for bringing artists and engineers together. The university named a footbridge in his honor. He also created an animation-based teaching program for high school and college students to have fun while learning computer programming.

In February, the Academy of Interactive Arts & Sciences in California announced the creation of the Dr. Randy Pausch Scholarship Fund for university students who pursue careers in game design, development and production.
He and his wife, Jai, had three children, Dylan, Logan and Chloe.


A great teacher impacts his or her students in a way that impacts them for a lifetime. Dr. Pausch's "Last Lecture" alone made us all his students. God bless him and his family.

Here's the link for those of you who haven't seen it. It is completely worth the time, (and yet another reason why I am angry that my school district's tech people have completely blocked access to Youtube.)

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3 Comments:

At 7/27/08, 7:01 AM, Blogger CaliforniaTeacherGuy said...

I read Pausch's obit in Saturday's Los Angeles Times. I had never heard of him before. After reading about him, I thought to myself: This is the kind of impact I want to have on my students.

 
At 7/27/08, 7:46 AM, Blogger "Ms. Cornelius" said...

That's exactly what we all would like. We just have to find a way to do it in a world in which every teaching moment is becoming more and more sterile and scripted.

 
At 7/27/08, 7:07 PM, Blogger Goldie said...

R.I.P. What an amazing man. I have heard of him but I'm ashamed to say I never got round to listening to/reading the lecture. I've always meant to, but could never find the time. Now would probably be good.

 

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