Randy Pausch And "The Last Lecture"

(CBS)
Steve Hartman is a correspondent for CBS News based in New York.
Tonight's Assignment America is so special, 've asked if I can tell the same story every month 'til further notice.

Seriously. I'm not sure it'll happen, but if it does, we're all in for some tremendously powerful television.

The story is about a computer science professor at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh. His name is Randy Pausch and he's one of the foremost authorities on virtual reality. Not long ago he was asked to give a "last lecture." "Last lectures" have become popular on college campuses. It's where the professor speaks as if he's dying and has one last chance to convey all his most important wisdom to his students. It was a painfully simple assignment for Randy.

He IS dying.

Randy has pancreatic cancer which has now spread to his liver. I asked him if he would be around for Christmas. He said, "50/50". I asked, "Father's Day?". He said, "I wouldn't buy me anything.". It was a rare somber moment. Until you start talking about his three small children or his wife, Randy is able to stay remarkably upbeat. In his lecture at Carnegie Mellon he started by announcing that he'd experienced a death bed conversion - paused -smirked - and said, "I bought a Macintosh." The place errupted.

In my story tonight I'll have more of the speech along with an interview I did with Randy while his kids were napping earlier this week.

Understandably, Randy wants to spend as much quality time with his kids as possible. But he is also a teacher and he has so much wisdom to share. More now than ever. Facing imminent death seems to have crystalized that wisdom. His lecture has already been downloaded nearly a million times by people all over the world. And most everyone has found inspiration.
I can't possibly tell you everything I want to tell you about Randy in this short blog. Tonight's story will be equally lacking. Which is why I've asked Katie and our other executives here at CBS if I can visit with Randy every few weeks for as long as he has to live. They have agreed. Randy is thinking about it - although he cautioned me to be careful what I wish for. "Death can get ugly," he said.

Maybe, but I think he's got more than enough life to shine through.

  • Steve Hartman

    Steve Hartman has been a CBS News correspondent since 1998, having served as a part-time correspondent for the previous two years.