September 27, 2007

Grace and courage

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.


Kartik said...

I actually read this before the pointer from your blog- "last lecture" takes on a totally different meaning...

On a somewhat related note, I think the worst way to pass on must be knowing exactly when it'll happen.

Mayuresh Gaikwad said...

This is Mitch Albom's "Tuesday's with Morrie" (TWM) in real life. Quite a touching read ..... this essay as well as the book(TWM). Thanks for sharing this with us. I think very few of us have the courage to embrace death the way this guy is doing.

The "Morrie" in TWM too was a professor, som weeks away from his end and went even one step further. He organised his own funeral nd asked people to say the nice things thy had to say about him when he was alive, because he would not get to hear them if said after his death!!!

Anonymous said...

D: just saw this video. Its fabulous. Sat through the entire 1 hr 25 min of it. What blew me away though was not Randy's grace under fire (which he obviously has in spades) but his brilliant public speaking skills. There was not one moment, not one comic timing, not one story that was false or overdone in that entire speech, though the messages (if delivered by someone other than Randy) could've been schmaltzy. I'm thinking to myself - this guys a PROF! He's a brilliant scientist. How does he get to be this fabulous communicator as well? Its really cool to see someone like in academia. He just seemed so put-together, so fun! I'm sure he will be sorely missed.


Veena said...

n!: In CMU, this man is known for a great many things. But almost every one I know remembers him most for one thing - showmanship. He loves it. He is made for it. The CS dept knows that it just lost its best communicator.

Dilip D'Souza said...

Kartik, that's one I'll have to think about. I'm wondering if when you know, it makes you experience life that much more sharply and clearly.

Mayuresh, thanks for that -- TWM has been recommended to me several times and perhaps after your comment I'll go read it.

n! and Veena: I've still not watched the whole thing (most of it, though), and I agree with you. Randy is spot on with his timing and delivery.

Prasanthi said...

Dilip ji,

I want to discuss with you regarding your article,
The questions, they will not die, in

May I know your email address?

Please write to me:

By the way, I did go through the article on Prof. Rand's last lecture. It is so moving and inspiring.

Thank you.

with regards,