But instead of focusing on his death, Pausch spoke about his childhood dreams. "You may not agree with the list but I was there. ... Being in zero gravity, playing in the National Football League, authoring an article in the World Book Encyclopedia -- I guess you can tell the nerds early. ... I wanted to be one of the guys who won the big stuffed animals in the amusement park."
He went on to attain almost all of those dreams, but they didn't all come easy.
In the lecture, he spoke of overcoming the obstacles that may seem insurmountable.
Although he graduated magna cum laude from Brown University, he nearly didn't get in to Brown in the first place -- he was wait listed. It was a brick wall that some might have walked away from. But Pausch had a novel way of looking at obstacles:
"The brick walls are there for a reason," he said during his lecture. "The brick walls are not there to keep us out. The brick walls are there to give us a chance to show how badly we want something."
He kept calling the college until it let him in.
Pausch maintained that his most formidable brick wall was a beautiful graduate student named Jai Glasgow. Pausch was 37, with a reputation as something of a ladies' man, when he met her at a lecture. Pausch was smitten, but she resisted. However, he refused to give up, and they eventually married and had three children.
Pausch spoke movingly of how he was trying to create memories for his three kids, Dylan, 6, Logan, 3, and Chloe, 18 months, and why he couldn't allow himself to wallow in self pity.
"I mean, the metaphor I've used is ... somebody's going to push my family off a cliff pretty soon, and I won't be there to catch them. And that breaks my heart. But I have some time to sew some nets to cushion the fall. So, I can curl up in a ball and cry, or I can get to work on the nets."
Pausch was already a popular professor, and one of the foremost teachers in the field of virtual reality, when he proposed a class that would become legendary at CMU: It was called Building Virtual Worlds, a high-wire act that brought together students from many different disciplines, writers and computer programmers and artists who were forced to work together intensively in small groups.
Pausch told Sawyer that while the course was ostensibly about designing virtual reality worlds, there was a stealth message as well: "How do you behave with integrity? How do you behave in a way that other people will respect you and want to keep working with you?"
The result was so popular that it eventually spawned an entire program at the university. Together with drama professor Don Marinelli, Pausch started the Entertainment Technology Center, which over the years has become the go-to school for video gaming and Hollywood high tech.
At the ETC, students were encouraged to try the unconventional and the risky.
As former student Phil Light said, "We went to him and said, 'We have these ideas, we have a couple of ideas. This idea here is very safe. This idea here is risky.' He said, 'Go for the risk. It's better to fail spectacularly then to pass along and do something which is mediocre.'"
Pausch said that over the years, he went from attaining his own childhood dreams to learning to enable the dreams of his students, which he maintained is every bit as satisfying.