A fond farewell to Randy Pausch

Inspirational 'last' lecturer Randy Pausch loses his battle against cancer, reports John Gill

July 31, 2008

A terminally ill academic who rose to fame when his inspirational "last lecture" became an internet phenomenon has died aged 47.

Randy Pausch, professor of computer science at Carnegie Mellon University in the US, gave the lecture "Really Achieving Your Childhood Dreams" last autumn as part of a series of hypothetical last lectures in which speakers focused on what mattered to them most.

For Professor Pausch, who was suffering from pancreatic cancer and had only months to live, the "last lecture" title was poignantly accurate, and his performance, filmed and posted on the internet, was watched by millions of people worldwide.

It began with the lecturer, who was addressing an audience of 400 students, standing in front of a screen showing a scan of his own liver riddled with tumours, under the title "The elephant in the room".

Despite the fact doctors had told him he would die within six months - in the end he lived for a further ten - he dropped to the floor and did several press-ups, telling the students: "I'm in really good shape; in fact I am in better shape than most of you."

He went on to tell them that obstacles are "there to give us a chance to show how badly we want something", and advised them "if you lead your life the right way ... the dreams will come to you".

He also admitted that his own childhood dreams included being Captain Kirk from Star Trek and writing an article in the World Book encyclopaedia, adding "I guess you can tell the nerds early."

Professor Pausch founded Carnegie Mellon's Entertainment Technology Centre and an animation-based computer programming course.

When he appeared on the top-rated talk show Oprah, he said he was embarrassed and flattered by the attention, adding that the lecture was really for his three children.

He said: "If I don't seem as depressed or morose as I should be, sorry to disappoint you. If you have any herbal supplements or remedies, please stay away from me. I'm dying, and I'm having fun."


  • The video of Professor Pausch's last lecture can be seen at www.youtube.com/watch?v=nw O7EnM0zWM
  • Times Higher Education is launching a special series of fortnightly essays on inspirational university teaching, from 4 September. First up is Tom Palaima, professor of Classics at the University of Texas at Austin.

Please login or register to read this article

Register to continue

Get a month's unlimited access to THE content online. Just register and complete your career summary.

Registration is free and only takes a moment. Once registered you can read a total of 3 articles each month, plus:

  • Sign up for the editor's highlights
  • Receive World University Rankings news first
  • Get job alerts, shortlist jobs and save job searches
  • Participate in reader discussions and post comments

Have your say

Log in or register to post comments