Lecture against the dying of the light

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Lecture against the dying of the light

What would you do if your doctor gave you just a few months to live?

Randy Pausch, who taught computer science at Carnegie Mellon University in the United States, defiantly throws himself into work after he is told he has pancreatic cancer, a particularly insidious form of the disease.

At the risk of exhausting his weakening body, he prepares his Last Lecture, a talk he gave to 400 people at CMU.

Pausch could have resigned quietly from his post and spent his last few months with his wife and three young children. Instead, he continues to do what he loves most - teach.

This is not such a surprise, really. When asked why he wrote about his terminal cancer, the British columnist John Diamond replied, “Because I can.” An elderly relative of mine was planting vegetables in his garden when he knew he had just weeks to go before his demise, again courtesy of cancer.

I came away from Pausch’s book, an expanded version of the talk he gave at CMU in September 2007, disappointed, though, despite my admiration for the author’s ballsy approach to his fate. I guess I was expecting some insight into life, some advice, some thoughts that would make sense of it all. Instead, Pausch, like any decent college teacher, rams home points about how to live your life and fulfill your dreams:

Know where you are. Never give up. No job is beneath you. Tell the truth. A bad apology is worse than no apology. If at first you don’t succeed...

Well-meaning, but, as the author freely admits, oozing cliche.

Perhaps the fault is the format. Lectures are meant to be heard, not read, but thanks to the wonders of the Internet, Pausch can be seen in full flow forever.

By Michael Gibb
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