A hope note
At many universities, it’s traditional for retiring professors to give a ‘last lecture,’ their 30-minute manifesto on whatever they deem most important.
When Randy Pausch, 46, professor of computer science at Carnegie Mellon University, gave his last lecture in September 2007, most, including Pausch, assumed it would literally be his last lecture. The husband and father of three small children had been diagnosed a year earlier with pancreatic cancer. Tests a month before the last lecture showed that the cancer had spread to his liver and spleen.
His last lecture and a book with that title, along with interviews by Oprah Winfrey and Diane Sawyer, have squeezed the heartstrings of millions.
I saw a short clip this week of a portion of the commencement address Pausch delivered last week at Carnegie Mellon. Here’s the essence, as I remember it, of his advice to the Class of 2008. ‘Find your passion, and if there’s anything I’ve learned, it’s that you’re not going to find it in things or in money, because you’ll always be able to look around and find others who have more, and then you’ll feel bad. You must find your passion in people, in relationships.’
His wisdom reminded me of something self-made billionaire Ross Perot said when he spoke to Harvard Business School students: ‘Just remember if you get lucky, if you make a lot of money, if you go out and buy a lot of stuff, it’s gonna break! Go to a yacht basin any place in the world. Nobody’s smiling, and I’ll tell you why: something broke that morning. The generator’s out. The microwave doesn’t work. The cook quit. Things just don’t mean happiness.’
Too bad that it takes a serious illness, or the specter of death, to drive that truth home.