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Michael Smerconish: Randy Pausch's last lecture

I'M PRAYING that Randy Pausch lives to see Father's Day on Sunday. Even if he does, he knows it will surely be his last, since he's dying of pancreatic cancer.

I'M PRAYING that Randy Pausch lives to see Father's Day on Sunday. Even if he does, he knows it will surely be his last, since he's dying of pancreatic cancer.

On Aug. 15, 2007, he was told he had only three to six months of "good health" remaining. And while he's already beaten that curve, his ultimate fate is certain: This married father of three and tenured computer science professor at Carnegie Mellon University cannot beat his illness. That Randy Pausch has achieved worldwide acclaim while confronting death is testament to the message he's spread with his remaining time.

After learning of his illness and undergoing an initial round of chemotherapy, Pausch delivered "The Last Lecture" at Carnegie Mellon in September. Such big-picture addresses have become common in academic settings but are usually delivered by the healthy after significant careers.

His was actually titled "Really Achieving Your Childhood Dreams." Pausch's speech was an unscripted, 180-slide presentation about overcoming setbacks, appreciating others and cherishing family.

He offered a lesson about how to lead our lives. Self-deprecating, optimistic and insightful, his remarks were a nonpreachy lesson plan.

Since then, the video of his 76-minute address has been viewed online by tens of millions. Now, the book adaptation of "The Last Lecture" is the No. 1 seller in the nation, with 3 million copies in print. It's been translated into 29 languages.

The book was co-written by Jeffrey Zaslow, the Moving On columnist at the Wall Street Journal. This week, I hosted Zaslow in Philadelphia, where 1,300 people bought tickets to hear him speak about Pausch, who is too sick to travel.

Zaslow heard about Pausch before Pausch delivered the lecture. Zaslow interviewed the professor by phone the day before and immediately decided he wanted to be in the room for the lecture. So when an editor balked at the $850 airfare, Zaslow decided to drive 300 miles from Detroit.

"There were 400 of us in the room, and it was an awesome personal experience for all of us - because we're all dying, like Randy is onstage, it's just at a difference pace. And so watching him, how he's approaching his final moments, it was almost a joy to watch. It was sad and it was uplifting at the same time," Zaslow told me.

Pausch later decided that Zaslow should write the book version of "The Last Lecture," but only if the writing could be accomplished without Pausch missing too much time with his family. So they had 53 hour-long conversations, each while Pausch, with a headset, spoke while riding his bike for exercise.

I asked Zaslow why so many millions are so moved by Pausch's story.

"He's 47, and he knows he's got weeks or months to go. We're all dying. And so when we look at him, it's just almost a gift to look at him. Because you can think, maybe I can do that too. If I know my time is coming, maybe I can live life every day," Zaslow said.

Maybe it is that simple. We're all Randy Pausch - just with more time on our hands. It's just that unlike him, we have no idea how much.

"He wakes up in the morning trying to live the happiest day he can. And you can see that he's doing it . . . He says, 'I'm dying and I'm having fun. I'm going to keep having fun every day I have left.' So, by watching him, I think it's just a role model for the rest of us."


Pausch has become a "take stock" moment in life. He is our New Year's resolutions, and feeling we get celebrating a birth, attending a bar mitzvah, or watching a bride being given away by her father all wrapped up into one.

"It's not about how to achieve your dreams. It's about how to lead your life," he said at the conclusion of his lecture.

They'll be minus a father, but, for the rest of their lives, Pausch's children will have that road map to follow. As for us? Pausch's mother was fond of telling people that her son was a doctor - "just not the kind that helps people." How wrong she was about that. *

Listen to Michael Smerconish weekdays 5-9 a.m. on the Big Talker, 1210/AM. Read him Sundays in the Inquirer. Contact him via the Web at