An Injured Lion Still Wants to Roar
“Last lectures” are common events on many college campuses. A professor is asked to consider the end of his life and think about what is most important to him. The ideal result is a lecture that causes the audience to ponder the question of their own mortality and legacy. Carnegie Mellon University has done these lectures for years; the series is named Journeys. After Randy Pausch is diagnosed with pancreatic cancer, he is asked to give his Journey lecture in September.
In mid-August, Pausch gets the news that he has only months to live, and he considers canceling his lecture. He and his wife, Jai, think he should be spending all his final days with his family. They have just moved from Philadelphia to West Virginia so Jai and the kids will be close to family when he is gone, and Pausch has committed himself to doing whatever he can to make life easier for those he will leave. But he is consumed with the idea of leaving something substantive behind for his children.
He will have to travel on Jai’s forty-first birthday, and Jai knows her husband will be consumed with this project. Pausch does not want to be gone for the last birthday he will share with Jai, but he really believes he must give this lecture. They meet with their psychotherapist and they listen to one another’s views. Pausch examines his motives and admits he wants both to remind the world and himself that he is still alive and to bask in the spotlight one last time. He tells Jai, “An injured lion wants to know if he can still roar.”
Pausch has been yearning for a way to leave a legacy for his children, ages five, two, and one. He will videotape the lecture, so ten years (or more) from now, Jai can show it to them. The audience’s reactions, he hopes, will add credibility to what he says. Jai relents. Pausch is determined to make this speech not about how he is dealing with dying but about living.
He asks himself what makes him unique. He is one of 37,000 Americans who are diagnosed with pancreatic cancer every year, so his cancer does not make him special in any way. He is a son, a brother, a husband, a father, a friend, a computer scientist, and a teacher. In a hospital waiting room, he realizes what sets him apart from others is that he has fulfilled nearly all of his childhood dreams and goals. He has been taught by many extraordinary teachers and mentors, and his forty-six-year journey is something he is passionate enough about that he can create an interesting lecture. The title will be “Really Achieving Your Childhood Dreams.”