Editorial: 'Last Lecture' full of firsts for living

Staff Writer
Mount Shasta Herald

Living well is not insurance for living forever. No one knew that better than Randy Pausch.

Pausch died of pancreatic cancer last week at the age of 47, after inspiring millions of people with his message about living fully, realizing your dreams and leaving an example for the next generation.

Pausch was a computer science professor from Carnegie Mellon University when he was asked to deliver “The Last Lecture” — a series that invited professors to talk about what matters most to them, with the pretense that it was their last lecture.

Doctors had just told Pausch he had months to live, so he shared with his audience the irony of the university changing the name of the lecture series to “Journeys” before he spoke.

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

Humor was just one tool he used to lighten the mood and make people feel comfortable around him.

Even before his terminal diagnosis, he was a favorite of students because his stories made his topics come alive.

His “Last Lecture” was videotaped and reproduced on thousands of Web sites. He became a sensation on “The Oprah Winfrey Show” and agreed to a book, which he co-wrote with Wall Street Journal columnist Jeffrey Zaslow. Much of it was dictated while Pausch was on his bike. He did not want the book to rob his family of the little time he had left.

He was never comfortable with the notoriety. He said he was writing the book primarily for his three young children, whom he wouldn’t be around to mentor.

“I can’t say things and reinforce them in four years. My time is now,” Pausch told Zaslow.

Nothing about Pausch was maudlin. In his speech, he said he was able to accomplish awesome things in his short life — to experience weightlessness; to work for Walt Disney as an “imagineer” who created experiences in the Magic Kingdom; to become a pioneer in the field of human-computer interaction and virtual reality.

“We don’t beat the reaper by living longer, we beat the reaper by living well and living fully,” he said.

In May, he told graduates at Carnegie Mellon’s commencement ceremonies that he could look back and say, “pretty much any time I got a chance to do something cool, I tried to grab for it, and that’s where my solace comes from.”

The writer Zaslow told Wall Street Journal readers May 3 that Pausch was advised by his minister to provide “emotional insurance” for his kids, in addition to estate planning and life insurance. Pausch then asked other children whose parents had died what helped them. The thing they found comfort in, they said, was knowing their dead parent had loved them.

So Pausch made videos of himself and his family to supplement his children’s memories, which he knew would become fuzzy. He made sure they saw how much he touched them and laughed with them.

In the article, Zaslow said Pausch also wrote advice for them, “things like: ‘If I could only give three words of advice, they would be, ‘Tell the truth.’ If I got three more words, I’d add, ‘All the time.’ ”

He struggled about the fact he wouldn’t be around to give his toddler daughter, Chloe, advice about boys. The advice he left for her includes this: “When men are romantically interested in you, it’s really simple. Just ignore everything they say and only pay attention to what they do.”

Chloe might not remember her father, Pausch told Zaslow, “But I want her to grow up knowing that I was the first man ever to fall in love with her.”

Upon Pausch’s death last week, his wife, Jai, issued a statement that her husband was proud his lecture and book “inspired parents to revisit their priorities, particularly their relationships with their children.”

To love well and live well: Pausch — in the end and all along — got it right.

Rockford Register Star