How I achieved my childhood dream, and with it, a legacy gift
I am in my 72nd year now, and when this is disclosed, most people do not believe it. There are two conclusions as to why. The first is that I was born at an early age.
When I was just a youngster my dad asked me if I would like to hear the Los Angeles Philharmonic Orchestra at the Hollywood Bowl. Being like any other self-respecting little kid, I responded: “huh?” I had no idea what to expect. Our tickets put us at the very rear of the bowl, but I recall my astonishment at the sound of the orchestra. And throughout the program fantasizing what it must sound like to sit a little closer. And then a little closer still, until…wow!…what it must sound like to be in the very front row. It didn’t take much more to wonder what it must be like to actually be in the orchestra completely surrounded by that wall of sound.
A few years later dad handed me a school instrument…a metal clarinet. Other kids received various musical instruments. Our first introduction to music resulted in little or no differentiation as a cacophonous blatty sound. However, a few short months later, we were actually able to snort out a few recognizable tunes. By 8th grade I was receiving “superior” ratings, and for the first time in my life, I was actually good at something.
Those humble beginnings led me through adulthood where I juggled a career as a clinical laboratory scientist at the University California Irvine Medical Center with performances in various orchestras and symphonic bands throughout the southland. About twice a year, one of the orchestras would perform for a daytime children’s concert. I recall the sea of raucous kids filling up an auditorium, and little fingers plugging their ears as we performed. After one particular concert our director invited several kids to come up on stage and sit next to a musician. Extra chairs were provided, and I cannot forget the kid who sat next to me as we played the encore…John Philip Sousa’s “The Stars and Stripes Forever.” His little faced looked freshly mommy-scrubbed and his jaw dropped open in astonishment as he looked up at me in wide-eyed wonder. And during that piece, I realized this little kid was me all those years ago. It was me with my dad at the Hollywood Bowl and the L.A. Phil. It was not until that moment that I seriously realized that I had achieved a childhood dream.
Years later I heard of Dr. Randy Pausch, the Carnegie Mellon University professor who was fighting pancreatic cancer at the time. As part of the University’s “The Last Lecture” series, Dr. Pausch’s presentation, “Really Achieving Your Childhood Dreams,” had a major impact on me. I could relate to his message: “Never lose your wide-eyed childlike wonder. It’s just too important. It’s what drives us.” And that is the second conclusion why people do not see me as being 72 years of age. It is that condition that is the key to staying young at heart. As I learned more about Dr. Pausch’s teaching methods, I realized that we had much in common. UCI is a training hospital for college grad clinical laboratory students. Just like Randy, I enjoyed making learning fun with our students. And, in spirit, I was able to share that joy with Randy.
Dr. Pausch’s “The Last Lecture” also answered other important questions in our lives. After listening to his presentation, those questions were fulfilled and led directly to our decision to leave a portion of our estate to the Pancreatic Cancer Action Network. Our purpose is to have some small role in the success of the efforts for early detection and treatment of the disease that took Dr. Pausch’s life. We have been blessed in having met Randy Pausch through his lecture. His legacy has touched our lives. In return we are certain that we will have left this world a better place, just as Randy has.
Young at heart…Jay and Barbara Schwantes