Friday, February 29, 2008

The Last Lecture on Life

"Few things are better than fulfilling a childhood dream. It satisfies expectations, paints reality on the canvas of imagination and suggests the limits of human potential.” So writes Bill Maxwell, a regular contributor to St. Pete Times' Opinion Section under the heading “When wit was in style” on Feb 28, 2007.

It so happened that I had just watched a video on the same topic, but this time given by an apparently dying man, Randy Pausch.

You see, Randy is a professor of computer science at Carnegie Mellon University (CMU) who has been diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. His doctor has told him (on Aug 15, 2007) that he has likely 3-6 months to live.

So he was reprising his last lecture already given at CMU last September at the Oprah Winfrey Show as captured in the video, just over 10 minutes long. And our friend who alerted us to the video has this to say:

I found this message particularly inspiring. This is lecture on life from a professor with truly remarkable insight on life, goals, etc. It's about 10 minutes long and one of the best uses of that time that anyone will find.”

What I saw on the video is every bit an academic, but seemingly in the prime of health, projecting confidence and enthusiasm. None of the moroseness or stoicism that we tend to associate with the terminally ill. In fact, he did push-ups on the floor mixed up with hand clapping just to prove his point that right then he might be healthier than a majority of the audience.

And his talk, on how he realized his childhood dreams, conjured up the same vivacious personality, so full of life and wit. Interspersed with slides, he showed the audience that since young he always has a smiling disposition, great parents who enjoy life to the fullest (one of the slides shows his Mon in a knock-knock car and another, his Dad riding the roller coaster on his 80th birthday and winning a huge stuff toy, a prowess he shares with his son as seen from the image above taken from here).

One of his childhood dreams was to play in the National Football League, but he got more out of not being able to play in the NFL than he would have if he had played. But he did realize one of his other dreams of becoming a Disneyland Imagineer, putting his knowledge in the fascinating field of virtual reality to good use such as the Aladdin project.

Some of his words of gem include:

a) Experience is what you get when you don't get what you wanted.

b) The karma will take care of itself. And the dreams will come to you.

c) Apologize properly, by saying all of the three-parter: I'm sorry. It's my fault. How do I make it right? [So often we miss out the last part, or even the second part, out of pride, thereby aggravating an already deteriorated situation.]

d) Show gratitude.

e) Don't complain. Just work harder.

Wishing to learn more about this remarkable person, I googled him and landed on his webpage at CMU where I first read the transcript of his full last lecture delivered at CMU on Sep 18, 2007. Then I watched a video of his entire talk, the whole 76 minutes and 26 seconds of it, without break. I would have to say that was even more inspiring, more moving, exactly as what the webpage says:

"With equal parts humor and heart, Carnegie Mellon Professor Randy Pausch recently delivered a one-of-a-kind university lecture that moved an overflow crowd at Carnegie Mellon - and is now moving audiences around the globe.”

Here he expanded (or rather the first 11-minute video condensed his original lecture) many of the episodes he barely touched on in the first video because of time limitations. I had a hilarious time and more important, had learned some valuable lessons in life.

I recommend everyone to watch the full length feature. I can assure you that it would be the best present you have ever given yourself. It's that good. The hits on the You Tube video is a staggering more than 400,000.

Now blogging today has its own special significance. Because I have to wait for another four years to blog on the same day. It's of course Feb 29, the leap day that occurs every four years. And this morning I read an email on a discussion forum about this guy retiring today, leaping out of his work on a leap day (see the pun?) because he would have to wait for another four years to do it on the same day. For the record, I retired on Feb 1, in the previous leap year because the thought never crossed my mind.

As a note, Randy made it through Feb 15, exactly 6 months after the day his doctor broke the news of his likely shortened life to him. Let's all wish him success in getting through this ordeal.


Chea-Yinn said...

Hm! I am quite interested in listening to his lecture, or at least in reading the transcript of it (my laptop speakers don't work very well). Thank you for sharing!

~...:::Ned:::...~ said...