Section III of the late Randy Pausch’s Last Lecture, titled “Adventures and Lessons Learned,” was Pausch’s way of communicating the importance of humility and of seizing life to the fullest. During this part of his lecture, he described a number of events in his life that helped to shape his character in his waning days. Pausch, of course, died from pancreatic cancer at the age of 47. While the horrendous experiences of undergoing life-threatening surgery, brutal rounds of chemotherapy and radiation treatments, and finally discovering that treatments had failed all reinforced for him the importance of living a joyful life, other defining experiences similarly helped to teach this brilliant computer scientist the necessity of placing the lives of others above our own and of maintaining the proper perspectives. By his own description, Pausch was prone to acting like an arrogant, obnoxious jerk. While that personality flaw would not dissipate overnight, certain seminal instances in his life helped him to grasp his situation and to focus on self-improvement. One of those instances involved a conversation with his academic mentor, Andy van Dam, a particularly demanding professor who took an interest in his student, Pausch’s, career:
“In Andy's view, I was self-possessed to a fault, I was way too brash and I was an inflexible contrarian, always spouting opinions. One day Andy took me for a walk. He put his arm around my shoulders and said, 'Randy, it's such a shame that people perceive you as being so arrogant, because it's going to limit what you're going to be able to accomplish in life.'
"Looking back, his wording was so perfect. He was actually saying, 'Randy, you're being a jerk'" But he said it in a way that made me open to his criticisms, to listening to my hero telling me something I needed to hear.”
Pausch also tells a story about when he and his older sister Tammy were waiting for the school bus and he, as usual, was full of himself and mouthing off. Tammy responded by dropping his lunch box in a muddy puddle. That evening, expecting to be punished by their father, she was instead treated to a congratulatory smirk by dad, who felt the incident had taught Randy a lesson about arrogance.
One of the most important influences on Pausch’s life was his father. It was only after his father’s death, while going through the deceased’s personal possessions, that Randy discovered, quite by accident, that his soft-spoken and always encouraging and supportive father had been decorated for heroism during World War II. That his father had never divulged this information to his children represented, for Randy, a serious lesson in humility.
Among the lessons and adventures discussed by Pausch are the stories of his wedding-day near-tragedy when the hot-air balloon in which he and his new bride were riding almost crash-landed in the path of a train, and the difficult and harrowing birth of their first child. Both of these events helped to impress upon Pausch the importance of appreciating every day that one has on this earth.
Pausch’s last lecture occurred in the context of his impending death. Delivered just months before he died -- fully cognizant of the fact that he was dying -- and that the lessons he had learned in his too-brief life were worth sharing, he devoted his final days to sharing his message. A summarization of this section of his lecture, then, should focus on how his character was shaped by both his obvious academic and scientific brilliance, and by the lessons in humility that occurred throughout his life – two characteristics often at odds with each other. Earlier in this section of the lecture, Pausch tells the story of how one of his colleagues once saw another driver who appeared so content that it inspired the colleague to feel better about her life. She then discovered that the driver was Randy Pausch. He had learned to appreciate life, fragile though it is, and the tone he had subconsciously adopted rubbed off on others.