Last Friday, July 25, 2008, Diane Sawyer announced on Good Morning America that Randy Pausch had passed away. Who was Pausch? Well, for one he was a Professor of Computer Science at Carnegie Mellon University (CMU) in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, as well as a best-selling author. But most notably, he achieved worldwide fame for his “The Last Lecture” speech on September 18, 2007.
It all began with one, age-old question: What would you say if you knew you were going to die and had a chance to sum up everything that was most important to you? For Pausch though, the question was too real. Pausch, a father of three small children with his wife Jai, had been diagnosed with pancreatic cancer—and given six months to live. But instead of focusing on his death, Pausch spoke about his childhood dreams. He went on to attain almost all of those dreams, but they didn’t all come easy.
In the lecture, he spoke of overcoming the obstacles that may seem insurmountable. One of the reasons Pausch was so highly thought of by his students was his extraordinary way of looking at obstacles: “The brick walls are there for a reason,” he said during his last lecture. “The brick walls are not there to keep us out. The brick walls are there to give us a chance to show how badly we want something.” In essence, he was telling his students, ‘it was there to keep others out, not us’.
After watching the video myself, he came across as a man with an uplifting, self-deprecating manner, all wrapped up in his unique brand of childlike bliss. (See the condensed version for yourself on YouTube, http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ji5_MqicxSo) And like all great educators, he took the complex and broke it down by using examples that were easily understood by his students. As an example, he used two cartoon characters his audience was familiar with: Winnie the Pooh’s friends—Eeyore and Tigger. As I would learn, Eeyore is unenthusiastic, gloomy, and depressed. One of Eeyore’s favorite phrases is, “It’s not much of a tail, but I’m sort of attached to it.” On the contrary, Tigger would say, “The wonderful thing about tiggers is that I’m the only one.” Whereas Eeyore believes he can’t do anything right, Tigger, on the other hand, is optimistic, joyful, and full of vitality—or joie de vivre. Professor Pausch made his bent for Tigger absolutely clear. Like Tigger, Pausch said he couldn’t help but have fun. As the affable professor said in his speech, “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.” That personal philosophy is what resonated with the millions of people who have been impacted by him.
Again, Pausch was uncomplicated and concise in making his point. He said, “You just have to decide if you’re going to be a Tigger or an Eeyore.”