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Dying computer professor inspires with 'last lecture'

Carnegie Mellon professor Randy Pausch, who likely has only a few months left to live, delivers upbeat talk as part of "Last Lecture Series."

In computer science circles, Carnegie Mellon professor Randy Pausch is known as a virtual-reality expert, co-founder of the university's Entertainment Technology Center and director of the Alice Software Project, which exposes students from middle school through college to programming.

Randy Pausch and children
Professor Randy Pausch and his three children in a recent shot. Randy Pausch

But he is fast becoming familiar to a broader audience as a man with little time to live and much wisdom to impart. Pausch, a 46-year-old father of three, has pancreatic cancer and, most likely, just a few months left.

In the last week, he has gained national attention for an inspiring and sometimes upbeat talk, titled "How to Live Your Childhood Dreams," that included one-handed push-ups, bright smiles and reminiscences of some of his own dreams met (getting a Ph.D, walking in zero gravity, writing an encyclopedia entry, designing Disney rides). "Brick walls are there for a reason," he told his audience at Carnegie Mellon. "They let us prove how badly we want things."

The Wall Street Journal (registration required) covered the talk, dubbing it the "lecture of a lifetime" and including video snippets on its site. An appearance on Good Morning America drew much attention, according to ABC, which has set up a Web page through which the public can deliver questions and comments to Pausch. Many write that they have been deeply affected by his attitude and words.

Poignantly, Pausch's CMU lecture last Tuesday was part of a "Last Lecture Series" sponsored by universities including Stanford, Cornell and the University of Alabama. Through it, professors are asked to give hypothetical final talks. Pausch's, needless to say, was the real deal.