Celebrating Randy Pausch’s lasting influence 10 years after his Last Lecture

This past Monday marked a decade since Professor Randy Pausch delivered his last lecture in McConomy Auditorium. Randy Pausch has loomed large in the consciousness of Carnegie Mellon students for the past 10 years. This influence starts from the very first week that first years arrive on campus and endures when people admire the lights of his memorial footbridge or think about the ways in which technology can intersect with any field — pretty much every moment that students spend on campus. It was his lecture that cemented his already impressive footprint into the culture and ethos of our school.

Randy Pausch was a professor of computer science and human-computer interaction here at Carnegie Mellon University. He founded the Entertainment Technology Center, a graduate program that uses game design and storytelling to promote education. This graduate program, which grants degrees jointly from the School of Computer Science and the College of Fine Arts, still teaches the Building Virtual Worlds class that Pausch taught for 10 years.

Pausch was diagnosed with terminal cancer at the age of 45, and chose to spend some of his last months writing a lecture for Carnegie Mellon’s lecture series, titled “Journeys” but formally called the “Last Lecture.” The topic, though most reading this will have read his book, was about achieving your childhood dreams, something Pausch felt qualified to impart after checking nearly all off of his list, with the exception of playing in the NFL. Even though Pausch could have filled the hour just imparting wisdom about his accomplishments, he also chose to teach how to empower others to be able to achieve their childhood dreams.

This message resonated with such a large audience, at Carnegie Mellon and beyond, that Pausch spent months being interviewed about his lecture, and eventually went on to co-author a book with Wall Street journal reporter Jeffrey Zaslow, which spent 80 weeks on The New York Times bestseller list, and is also given to all Carnegie Mellon students before their orientation.

Pausch’s mentality about how to view both personal and intellectual goals forms one of the first common experiences of all Carnegie Mellon students. This year, orientation groups met to discuss the message of the books, but this discussion was led by learning about the origin of each other’s names. “At the core of working in an interdisciplinary environment is knowing that problems are bigger than any one person, and you need other people’s expertise to create something bigger than any one of you could have individually,” stated Cheryl Platz, senior designer at Microsoft and attendee of Pausch’s last lecture, in a video made to celebrate the 10-year anniversary.

The book represents an inspiring rather than a macabre start to the year. “One of the things about Carnegie Mellon is that people here address problems in the real world, and you don’t get much realer than how do you live your life and how do you ultimately face death,” said another attendee, Byron Spice, the director of media relations for Carnegie Mellon University’s School of Computer Science.

This 10-year anniversary will be marked by events coordinated by the Entertainment Technology Center, with a string of events that can be found on the center’s website, including a screening of the lecture and a panel discussion in McConomy Auditorium where Pausch delivered his seminal lecture. This will take place Wednesday, Oct. 11 from 4:30 p.m. to 6:30 p.m. “10 years to us is less about a memorial and more about a celebration,” said Drew Davidson, director of the Entertainment Technology Center.