Friday, May 9, 2008

Randy Pausch's Last Lecture Part-11

So, I've met so many wonderful people along the way. Loyalty is a two way street. There was a young man named Dennis Cosgrove at the University of Virginia, and when he was a young man, let's just say things happened. And I found myself talking to a dean. No, not that dean. And anyway, this dean really had it in for Dennis, and I could never figure out why because Dennis was a fine fellow. But for some reason this Dean really had it in for him. And I ended up basically saying, no, I vouch for Dennis.

And the guy says, you're not even tenured yet and you're telling me you're going to vouch for this sophomore or junior or whatever? I think he was a junior at the time. I said, yeah, I'm going to vouch for him because I believe in him. And the dean said, and I'm going to remember this when your tenure case comes up. And I said, deal. I went back to talk to Dennis and I said, I would really appreciate you...that would be good.

But loyalty is a two-way street. That was god knows how many years ago, but that's the same Dennis Cosgrove who's carrying Alice forward. He's been with me all these years. And if we only had one person to send in a space probe to meet an alien species, I'm picking Dennis. [laughter]

You can't give a talk at Carnegie Mellon without acknowledging one very special person. And that would be Sharon Burks. I joked with her, I said, well look, if you're retiring, it's just not worth living anymore. Sharon is so wonderful it's beyond description, and for all of us who have been helped by her, it's just indescribable.

I love this picture because it puts here together with Syl, and Syl is great because Syl gave the best piece of advice pound-for-pound that I have ever heard. And I think all young ladies should hear this. Syl said, it took me a long time but I've finally figured it out. When it comes to men that are romantically interested in you, it's really simple. Just ignore everything they say and only pay attention to what they do. It's that simple. It's that easy. And I thought back to my bachelor days and I said, damn. [laughter]

Never give up. I didn't get into Brown University. I was on the wait list. I called them up and they eventually decided that it was getting really annoying to have me call everyday so they let me in. At Carnegie Mellon I didn't get into graduate school. Andy had mentored me. He said, go to graduate school, you're going to Carnegie Mellon. All my good students go to Carnegie Mellon. Yeah, you know what's coming.

And so he said, you're going to go to Carnegie Mellon no problem. What he had kind of forgotten was that the difficulty of getting to the top Ph.D. program in the country had really gone up. And he also didn't know I was going to tank my GRE's because he believed in me. Which, based on my board scores was a really stupid idea. And so I didn't get into Carnegie Mellon.

No one knows this. 'Til today I'm telling the story. I was declined admission to Carnegie Mellon. And I was a bit of an obnoxious little kid. I went into Andy's office and I dropped the rejection letter on his desk. And I said, I just want you to know what your letter of recommendation goes for at Carnegie Mellon. [laughter]

And before the letter had hit his desk, his hand was on the phone and he said, I will fix this. [laughter] And I said, no no no, I don't want to do it that way. That's not the way I was raised. [In a sad voice] Maybe some other graduate schools will see fit to admit me. [laughter] And he said, look, Carnegie Mellon's where you're going to be.

He said, I'll tell you what, I'll make you a deal. Go visit the other schools. Because I did get into all the other schools. He said, go visit the other schools and if you really don't feel comfortable at any of them, then will you let me call Nico? Nico being Nico Habermann [the head of Carnegie Mellon's Computer Science Dept.] and I said, OK deal. I went to the other schools. Without naming them by name -- [in a coughing voice] Berkeley, Cornell. They managed to be so unwelcoming that I found myself saying to Andy, you know, I'm going to get a job. And he said, no, you're not. And he picked up the phone and he talked in Dutch. [laughter] And he hung up the phone and he said, Nico says if you're serious, be in his office tomorrow morning at eight a.m.

And for those of you who know Nico, this is really scary. So I'm in Nico Habermann's office the next morning at eight a.m. and he's talking with me, and frankly I don't think he's that keen on this meeting. I don't think he's that keen at all. And he says, Randy, why are we here? And I said, because Andy phoned you? Heh-heh. [laughter]

And I said, well, since you admitted me, I have won a fellowship. The Office of Naval Research is a very prestigious fellowship. I've won this fellowship and that wasn't in my file when I applied. And Nico said, a fellowship, money, we have plenty of money. That was back then. He said, we have plenty of money. Why do you think having a fellowship makes any difference to us? And he looked at me.

There are moments that change your life. And ten years later if you know in retrospect it was one of those moments, you're blessed. But to know it at the moment ... with Nico staring through your soul. [laughter] And I said, I didn't mean to imply anything about the money. It's just that it was an honor. There were only 15 given nationwide. And I did think it was an honor that would be something that would be meritorious. And I apologize if that was presumptuous.


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