On September 18, 2007, computer science professor Randy Pausch stepped in front of an audience of 400 people at Carnegie Mellon University to deliver a last lecture called “Really Achieving Your Childhood Dreams.” With slides of his CT scans beaming out to the audience, Randy told his audience about the cancer that is devouring his pancreas and that will claim his life in a matter of months. On the stage that day, Randy was youthful, energetic, handsome, often cheerfully, darkly funny. He seemed invincible. But this was a brief moment, as he himself acknowledged.
Randy’s lecture has become a phenomenon, as has the book he wrote based on the same principles, celebrating the dreams we all strive to make realities. Sadly, Randy lost his battle to pancreatic cancer on July 25th, 2008, but his legacy will continue to inspire us all, for generations to come.
Narrator Erik Singer shares moving insight into his oratory, giving another voice to Randy Pausch’s inspiring, informative and touching book, “The Last Lecture”, winner of the 2009 Audie for Biography / Memoir.
While most of us know who Randy Pausch was, I thought it would be good to give a brief overview of Professor Pausch. This biographical excerpt and the opening paragraphs of this article were referenced from TheLastLecture.com:
“Randy Pausch was a professor of Computer Science, Human Computer Interaction, and Design at Carnegie Mellon University. From 1988 to 1997, he taught at the University of Virginia. He was an award-winning teacher and researcher, and worked with Adobe, Google, Electronic Arts (EA), and Walt Disney Imagineering, and pioneered the non-profit Alice project. (Alice is an innovative 3-D environment that teaches programming to young people via storytelling and interactive game-playing.) He also co-founded The Entertainment Technology Center at Carnegie Mellon with Don Marinelli. (ETC is the premier professional graduate program for interactive entertainment as it is applies across a variety of fields.) Randy lost his battle with pancreatic cancer on July 25th, 2008.”
Now, I’d like to share the answers to a very special interview in the form of a reflection by Erik Singer, narrator of The Last Lecture.
Narrating “The Last Lecture”
By Erik Singer
It was an honor to narrate The Last Lecture. I hadn’t heard of it before I was chosen to narrate it, but I googled it immediately and was blown away by the beauty of the lecture itself, as well as by Professor Pausch’s extraordinary warmth and charm — and, of course, by his story.
I did not get to meet Professor Pausch. We recorded in February of 2008, when he was already very sick. I don’t know if he was involved in the casting decision or not. The director, Karen DiMattia, did speak with him before we began recording. His direction to me, through her, consisted of one word: “Bouncy.” Tigger-like, is what I took from that — enthusiastic, optimistic, full of joy and boundless wonder for life and all it’s rich strangeness. Much like the author himself. I did my best to embody this.
As I mentioned before, it’s been some time since I recorded this, and I have not read or listened to it since. I remember the emotional experience much better than the specifics of the text. This is especially so for the advice sections. I certainly couldn’t speak to whether the advice is applicable to all people, but I do think there’s a certain amount of wisdom in the book. People are more important than things; live life to the fullest; go after your dreams. These things, surely, connect across a broad range of people and cultures.
I connected with the book on a number of very personal levels. First of all, my father survived testicular cancer 30 years ago. It had metastasized just about everywhere. He had about five major operations and years of chemo. By the grace of extraordinary good fortune, his own will to live, and some phenomenal doctors, he is here today (and in excellent health, though minus about forty percent of his original lung tissue and some other bits and pieces). Although I was too young to have much memory of his battle, I was certainly deeply affected by it — even formed by it to a certain extent. So Randy Pausch’s deeply moving last letter to his children, who would not be so lucky as I was, was a kind of alternate version of what my life might have been like if my father hadn’t survived.
In addition, I had a beloved aunt who died from pancreatic cancer when I was 12 and she was 32 and newly-married. This I remember vividly.
I also have two young children of my own — a three-and-a-half year-old son and an eight-month old daughter. When we were recording, we had only just found out that my wife was pregnant with our daughter. So the parts of the book where Professor Pausch wrote about his children, his sadness that he would not be there to watch them grow up — well, this was very difficult for me to read. I’m normally a very fast and fluid reader, but I think it probably took us about 2 hours to read the last 15 pages or so. I would keep choking up and even actually weeping, and had to stop to collect myself every few sentences. The end of the book was truly one of the most difficult reads I’ve ever done.
As a result, this is the aspect of the book that is most vivid for me a year-and-a-half later — Randy’s relationship to his children, and this beautiful, wise, book that he has left for them. The “second head-fake” The book is for them.
Nothing will compensate them for not growing up with their father, just as nothing would have compensated me had my father died of his cancer when I was small, just as nothing would compensate my children if I were to leave them now. But it will certainly help them to know that their father was such a funny, warm, wise, upbeat, witty, enthusiastic and deeply loving man.
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Looking forward to hearing your thoughts.