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Glazer: Professor's final lecture produces a true hero

POSTED: March 10, 2008 5:00 a.m.

Everybody needs a hero — someone who inspires us and makes us think beyond where we’ve been comfortable in the past.

A few months ago, I discovered a new hero. He’s Randy Pausch, a kid-faced computer science professor from Carnegie Mellon University. I’d never heard of him but my husband, Arthur the Geek, had. "Oh yeah," he said, "he’s that virtual reality guy." Yes. That and so very much more.

I don’t know why I happened to be reading the Wall Street Journal online. I guess it was one of those Confucian things — when the student is ready, the teacher will appear. I saw a headline titled, "A Beloved Professor Delivers The Lecture of a Lifetime" and my curiosity was piqued. That’s how I learned of Randy Pausch, read his story and became a better person, all in the course of an hour.

Professor Pausch is a heavy hitter in the world of computer science and virtual reality. A popular lecture device is to ask distinguished professors to imagine they’re giving the last lecture they’ll ever give and infuse it with everything they want to leave with their students.

In Dr. Pausch’s case it wasn’t just an academic exercise. He had been diagnosed with pancreatic cancer, had been through grueling surgeries and chemotherapy, and now the tumors were back. This would indeed probably be his last lecture.

I followed the online link to the lecture and sat in amazement as this incredible man gave one of the best speeches I’ve ever been privileged to hear. He was funny and inspirational, stressing the importance of achieving one’s childhood dreams. He said that brick walls are there for a reason; they let us prove how badly we want things.

A few other gems:

Experience is what you get when you didn’t get what you wanted.

Never lose the childlike wonder.

If we do something that is pioneering, we will get arrows in the back, but at the end of the day a whole lot of people will have a whole lot of fun.

Be good at something; it makes you valuable.

If you live your life the right way, the karma will take care of itself, and the dreams will come to you.

My 13-year-old loved this one: "If your kids want to paint their walls, as a favor to me, let them. Don’t worry about the resale value." He showed slides of his childhood bedroom, the walls covered with paintings of elevators, submarines, even the quadratic equation.

All this from a man who knows he’ll soon be dying, leaving a wife and three very small children. Then came his most powerful message. "You can’t control the cards you’re dealt, only how you play them." Whoa. So true.

This speech was given in September. Dr. Pausch gave 50-50 odds that he’d be alive at Christmas.

And now for the good news. He’s still here. Palliative chemotherapy seems to be working in the short term. After the WSJ article, there was a maelstrom of publicity. The speech was viewed over a million times online. He was interviewed by Oprah, "Good Morning America" and "20/20."

He and the WSJ reporter now have a book deal, which he fulfills by talking via Bluetooth to the reporter while he rides his bicycle each day during his children’s nap time. His sole priority right now is spending as much time as possible with his family and creating memories for his children.

If you’d like to view Dr. Pausch’s speech, you can access it from his Web site, If you don’t have a computer, this is a better reason than most to go out and buy one.

Will Rogers said, "We can’t all be heroes because somebody has to sit on the curb and clap as they go by."

Well, Dr. Pausch, I’m clapping just as hard as I can. And I pray you’ll be there to autograph your book when it comes out next spring.

Teressa Glazer is a Gainesville businesswoman. Her column appears frequently and on


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