What do you expect to hear from a computer science professor who’s only 46 years old and is going to die of cancer in a few months time? What will his last words be?
Carnegie Mellon Professor Randy Pausch, who is dying from pancreatic cancer, gave his last lecture at the university Sept. 18, 2007, before a packed McConomy Auditorium. In his moving talk, “Really Achieving Your Childhood Dreams,” Pausch talked about his lessons learned and gave advice to students on how to achieve their own career and personal goals.
Dr. Randy Pausch is my favourite professor in CMU. When I was in my fourth year in university, I was very fortunate to be able to take one of most pioneering, most fun, and most challenging courses ever – an interdisciplinary course that involved computer scientists, engineers, artists, dramatists, designers, and musicians, to create virtual reality environments every 2 weeks. We designed games that used head-mounted displays and data-gloves to create a total immersion experience in animated 3D environments. The last and biggest project I was involved in was called “Godzilla“, where the user can roam across the land in Godzilla’s perspective, using a data-“blow” device to flame buildings and wreak havoc in downtown Pittsburgh. (It’s a bit violent, but it’s really fun!)
Randy not only taught us how to make a 3D game in 2 weeks. He also taught us a lot of important life lessons. Throughout the semester, we created about 5 to 6 virtual worlds in a row. Everytime he shuffled us into different groups. He wanted to stretch our capabilities to work with different people of different backgrounds. So all of us who barely know each other, had to quickly sit down, ice-break, brainstorm, roll our sleeves, and be united in one spirit to create an impressible virtual world every 2 weeks, because no matter how much each of us contributed to the project, we would all receive the same grade. We all win or we all lose at the same time. There’s no room for individualism. And after every 2 week project is finished, we’d be given evaluation forms to evaluate each and every other member in the group. We were to write 3 strengths and 3 things to improve on about our fellow members. Then Randy would collect all the evaluation forms and keep them safe. At the end of the semester and during the last class, he would give us back our evalution forms all at the same time. It’s a really amazing exercise. When you receive and read 30 personal evaluation forms all at once, you’d see an overwhelming voice affirming your strengths, which is very encouraging, but you’d also receive an unanimous agreement in pointing out your weaknesses, which is hardly deniable. I loved this way of receiving feedback. Randy not only taught us team work, he also taught us to always remember affirming other people’s strengths and to love them enough to help them improve on their weaknesses. It’s the most valuable lesson I have learned when I was in university. Knowledge fades away easily, but widsom in life remains. I’m still inspired by many of his quotes and his overall attitude to life presented in his last lecture. He is truly a great educator, someone I have learned very valuable life lessons from. It’s hard to see him leave us so soon.
P.S. His entire lecture can be watched from here. Listening to a person’s last words can be one of the most worthwhile 85 mins you can ever spend.