Higher Education 101

>    We’ve just been gifted a stunning
contrast in the use, or misuse, of higher education and the public trust.
Carnegie Mellon University, founded in 1900, invited 43-year-old
Professor Randy Pausch to speak as part of the University’s “Last
Lecture Series.” These are lectures by guest professors who, hypothetically, have only one lecture left to give. At about the same time, Columbia University founded in 1893 invited
51-year-old Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad to speak and
participate in a Q&A session.
    Two universities founded during
the same era having two guest speakers of the same generation provided
us with a rare glimpse into two alternate realities.
Pausch, husband and father of three young children, is dying of
pancreatic cancer with no more than, at best, a few months to live. For him the Carnegie’s “Last Lecture” premise is not a hypothetical. Yet the message he conveyed in his speech was in support of the sanctity and uniqueness of every human life. His
delivery was filled with joy and laughter. This man has “been more alive” in his 43 years and produced more creative accomplishments than most of
us will do regardless of how long we live. He faces death as he embraces
life…with enthusiasm, joy and a sense of wonder. He leaves his
children (and those of us fortunate enough to have heard him or read
the transcript) with a joy for life, a sense of wonder, and an
understanding for the importance of giving oneself and others enough
support, encouragement and time to be the best they are capable of
    President Ahmadinejad, also a husband and father of
three young children, appears to be healthy of body but is diseased of
mind and Soul. He is a proponent of genocide, suppression of individual
rights, the death penalty for “moral” violations that offend Islam, and
the imposition and oversight by government of individual religious
beliefs. His message is one of separation, judgment, oppression, and the
use of deadly force to accomplish one’s goals.
    Carnegie Mellon
has used it’s venue to uplift the human spirit, affirm the highest
good, ignite the hearts and inspire the minds of those who will take us
into the future.
    Columbia has used it’s venue to feed the egos
of President Ahmadinejad and it’s own President Bollinger. More
troubling is that it’s leadership chose to give energy, and
thereby support, to the destructive rantings of a troubled Soul by
providing him with a platform and making him it’s focal point.
Columbia’s choice gave fuel only to the continuation of such behavior
on the part of Ahmadinejad and others like him.  Apparently, inspiration of the students was not even on
the program yesterday. Surely, it must have never even crossed  President Bollinger’s
    So what can we learn from these two men?
    A dear
friend of mine, who passed away a few years ago, used to say “We’re all
crippled in some way. It’s just that on some of us it shows, and on
others it doesn’t.” She meant it in the most loving way…to say how
each of us must struggle with limitation and by so doing, overcome it.
Professor Pausch is struggling with death. It’s visible and immediate
and he’s overcoming it by walking directly into the unknown with an
enlightened spirit and leaving for his children, and ours, a message of
encouragement and hope.
    President Ahmadinejad is struggling with
death as well. A confused and twisted psyche can’t be isolated, or as
readily “seen”, as the tumors on Professor Pausch’s pancreas but the
disease and disintegration are there, just the same. And be assured
it’s deadly. More so, really. Because Ahmadinejad, who believes that
dying for what he believes in is just, will not be satisfied to do that himself. He wants to impose death on as many others as he sees fit.
I think the lesson is that we create this world we pass through by where
we place our thoughts, our energies, and our time.
    Professor Pausch, by
example, has given us a priceless road map for how to traverse life,
and accept death, in a way that mirrors for us all humankind’s highest
    On the other hand, Ahmadinejad, by example, represents a dead-end
route identified by a clearly marked “Detour” sign, illustrating where not to go and, hopefully, re-directing us on a path well lit and headed for higher ground.
    We have a soon-to-be university age daughter.
    In our quest to forever expand her understanding of the world as
well as her sense of compassion and justice, guess where she will not be going.

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