You must watch this: Randy Pausch's "last lecture"

A dying computer science professor describes what he's learned in life.

By Farhad Manjoo

Published April 9, 2008 6:24PM (EDT)

Randy Pausch is a professor of computer science at Carnegie Mellon University, and he's dying. In 2006, Pausch was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer, and less than a year later, the cancer metastasized to his liver and spleen. He was given six months to live; that was eight months ago.

Shortly after this diagnosis, Pausch, one of CMU's most popular professors, delivered what was dubbed his "last lecture." It took place in one the campus's biggest auditoriums, and was fully attended. Pausch spoke for more than an hour about his life and how he'd lived it: the wisdom of a dying man -- but a funny, wisecracking, delightful man, too.

The lecture made it to the Web, and since then it's been a sensation. Millions have watched it on YouTube. This caught the attention of publishers; Hyperion paid Pausch $6.7 million for a book based on the talk. The book was published this week, to great publicity -- ABC will air an hour-long special about Pausch on Wednesday evening.

But if you don't read the book and don't watch the ABC special, at least watch the lecture, which I've posted above. It's fantastic.

Pausch begins with many jokes -- "I have experienced a deathbed conversion: I just bought a Macintosh" -- and discusses the highlights of his life at CMU; there's a great bit about his work with teams who produced virtual reality gear.

But in between the stories, he slips in bits of advice for life. This sounds like it might be cheesy. But while it's sometimes heartbreaking -- watch at around 1 hour and 19 minutes in, when he sings happy birthday to his wife -- there's nothing saccharine here.

"If I don't seem as depressed or morose as I should be, I'm sorry," he says.

Watch it, you'll see.

Farhad Manjoo

Farhad Manjoo is a Salon staff writer and the author of True Enough: Learning to Live in a Post-Fact Society.

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