As a grad student in Computer Science at Brown University in the early 1980s, what would you think made the greatest impression on me? Not the facilities, not the freshness of the USofA, not the faculty, not even how hard I suddenly had to work just to stay afloat in my courses. No, it was how extraordinarily bright the undergrad students around me were. We took courses together, but mostly we just hung out a lot, hacking away in the lab, chatting and laughing all the while.
No disrespect to my chums from BITS, nor to my fellow grad students at Brown, but collectively, these undergrads had the sharpest minds I had ever run into: Alex, Dara, Jeremy, Ashfaq, Matthew, Barbara, Hal, David and many more. Imagine my plight -- as a teaching assistant in my second year, I had to actually teach some of these guys the arcana of operating systems and algorithms. I mean, they swiftly grasped ideas that I was still shaky about in my own mind; what was I "teaching" them? Why aren't they teaching me, I'd wonder silently. And in the years since, they have all gone on to stellar careers in various fields.
And no disrespect to all those undergrads, but easily the sharpest among them was Randy Pausch. Friendly too, and always helpful (oh yes, I needed plenty of help). It was Randy who explained to me something utterly basic in the dialect of Lisp we used at Brown at the time, the meaning of "*-*".
Imagine my sadness, then, when I read this.
I wish you comfort and peace, Randy. All these years later, I don't know if you remember me. But your intelligence and good cheer certainly touched and inspired me, back in that house at the corner of George and Thayer. When my time comes, I hope I can find a fraction of your grace, humour and courage.