While sipping my morning coffee I learned that Stephen Hawking passed away last night at the age of 76. This news has hit me surprisingly hard. It is not as if I knew Stephen Hawking personally or had any special connection with him. He was someone I found inspirational, who overcame adversity, and shared his love of physics and space in a way that was infectious. When I first read A Brief History of Time in high school it inspired me to be more inquisitive and to ask the big difficult questions about this universe and my place in it. The answers I came up with during my adolescence have driven me to be a better person, to explore the world and live abroad, and to pursue a life of meaning. In essence, Stephen Hawking’s influence on my life has made me a better person and as such I have put him on a pedestal.
I know that no one is perfect, and I’m sure in the coming weeks the more cynical amongst us will be quick to point out his flaws. I like to believe however that a person is judged on the sum of their impact on others as whole. Looking around the internet this morning at the impact of his passing I see scientists, politicians, entertainers, journalists, and those from all walks of life mourning his passing in some way. His forays into entertainment (such as appearing on the Simpsons) lead me to believe he had a great sense of humor and was a part of the culture of society in a way few scientists (sadly) are. I would argue this is evidence of a life well lived, a life of passion for his work and fighting to live well past what doctors had predicted.
Dr. Hawking was also on my bucket list of influential figures I wanted to meet (or at least hear speak publicly) before I die. He visited Imperial College while I was pursuing my MBA which I found to be quite fortuitous at the time. The tickets were, as you can imagine, extremely popular and as such the university was selling them on a lottery basis. The anticipation of potentially getting to hear from one of my heroes live was intense as I waited weeks to learn of the outcome of the lottery. Unfortunately, I did not win the lottery and was unable to obtain a ticket by other means and as such missed the event.
I will never have the honor of meeting Professor Hawking in person, however in my own way I knew him. His life’s work impacted me, affected the choices I have made, and the roads I have chosen. I can think of no greater way to honor someone than to say I would not be the person I am today if it was not for Stephen Hawking.