Starting 2011 with scientist Randy Pausch’s Last Lecture

In 2007, just months before his death, computer scientist Randy Pausch delivered the lecture of a lifetime at Carnegie Mellon University. His talk has become more popularly known as The Last Lecture.

The beginning of each new year – 2011 included – gives us all a chance to start off fresh, do some perspective-adjustment, and rekindle a feeling of gratitude. That’s no easy task, so, when I need a push in the right direction, I turn to late computer scientist Randy Pausch.

It might sound strange (and possibly morbid) to be seeking wisdom from a deceased computer nerd, but Dr. Pausch delivered the talk of a lifetime at Carnegie Mellon University in 2007. His talk has become more popularly known as The Last Lecture. It’s got about 12 million+ views on YouTube.

According to Wikipedia, “…[Pauch’s talk] was modeled after an ongoing series of lectures where top academics are asked to think deeply about what matters to them, and then give a hypothetical ‘final talk,’ with a topic such as ‘what wisdom would you try to impart to the world if you knew it was your last chance?'”

In Dr. Pausch’s case, it really was his last chance, and he knew it. The rising superstar in the field of computer-human interaction succumbed to an aggressive form of pancreatic cancer in the summer of 2008, at the age of 47.

His last official academic lecture, which he titled Last Lecture: Really Achieving Your Childhood Dreams, is not just about science. It’s about sipping the sweet nectar of life.

Over the course of about an hour, Pausch talks about how his childhood interests created the jumping-off point for his whole scientific career, about the hard work scientists have to put in to make their dreams comes true, and about how fun and creativity are integral to scientific success.

He also advises that criticism typically comes from our biggest fans, and also that the obstacles we encounter on the way to achieving our dreams are there to help us.

“Brick walls are there for a reason,” said Pausch. “They give us a chance to show how badly we want something.”

Related: A computer project to simulate everything

Beth Lebwohl