[FoRK] Steve's commencement address at Stanford this year

Rohit Khare khare
Tue Jun 14 11:17:14 PDT 2005

> President John Hennessy then welcomed the estimated 23,000 people  
> in the stadium and, after a presentation of faculty, staff and  
> student awards by Provost John Etchemendy, returned to the podium  
> to introduce the keynote speaker.
> Hennessy said Jobs embodied the university's spirit, its  
> "willingness to be bold and strike out in new directions." Hennessy  
> also touched on Jobs' reputation as an innovator, a visionary and  
> an advocate for education who developed partnerships during Apple's  
> earliest days to get computers into schools and communities.
> Jobs began by rehashing the fact that he dropped out of college,  
> and that Sunday's ceremony was the closest he had ever gotten to a  
> university graduation. He then launched into the first part of his  
> address, which focused on having faith that the dots of one's life  
> will connect down the road, even if the journey so far has not  
> followed a clear pattern.
> Jobs said his biological mother was an unwed graduate student who  
> had planned to have him adopted. She had chosen a professional  
> couple to be the adoptive parents, but because they wanted a girl,  
> he was adopted by a husband and wife who didn't have college  
> degrees, Jobs said.
> They pledged to send the boy to college, and when the time came, he  
> chose Reed College in Portland, Ore. But because all of their  
> savings was going toward his tuition, Jobs dropped out and began  
> taking courses that interested him instead of those that were  
> required?such as a calligraphy course that later inspired him to  
> design different fonts in the first Macintosh.
> "Of course, it was impossible to connect the dots looking forward,"  
> Jobs said. "You can only connect them looking backwards, so you  
> have to trust that the dots will somehow connect in your future."
> Jobs also talked about love and loss, and how he discovered what he  
> wanted to do in life at an early age. He was 20 years old when he  
> and Steve Wozniak founded Apple, which in 10 years grew into a $2  
> billion company with 4,000 employees. After his departure from  
> Apple, Jobs went on to found NeXT Software Inc., which was  
> subsequently bought by Apple in 1997?returning him to the company  
> that got him started.
> "I'm pretty sure none of this would have happened if I hadn't been  
> fired from Apple," Jobs said. "I'm convinced that the only thing  
> that kept me going was that I loved what I did."
> The last part of his speech was about death. When he was diagnosed  
> with cancer about a year ago, Jobs said doctors expected him to  
> live no longer than six months. He had surgery not long after and  
> has since recovered, but the experience nonetheless taught him  
> another lesson.
> "Your time is limited, so don't waste it living someone else's  
> life," Jobs said. "Don't let the noise of others' opinions drown  
> out your own inner voice."
> After a standing ovation, Hennessy brought the ceremony to a close  
> with remarks that honored Jane Stanford?this year being the  
> centennial of her death.

This is a transcript of the 2005 Commencement address by Steve Jobs,  
CEO of Apple Computer and of Pixar Animation Studios.
Thank you. I'm honored to be with you today for your commencement  
from one of the finest universities in the world. Truth be told, I  
never graduated from college and this is the closest I've ever gotten  
to a college graduation.

Today I want to tell you three stories from my life. That's it. No  
big deal. Just three stories. The first story is about connecting the  
dots. I dropped out of Reed College after the first six months but  
then stayed around as a drop-in for another 18 months or so before I  
really quit. So why did I drop out? It started before I was born. My  
biological mother was a young, unwed graduate student, and she  
decided to put me up for adoption. She felt very strongly that I  
should be adopted by college graduates, so everything was all set for  
me to be adopted at birth by a lawyer and his wife, except that when  
I popped out, they decided at the last minute that they really wanted  
a girl. So my parents, who were on a waiting list, got a call in the  
middle of the night asking, "We've got an unexpected baby boy. Do you  
want him?" They said, "Of course."

My biological mother found out later that my mother had never  
graduated from college and that my father had never graduated from  
high school. She refused to sign the final adoption papers. She only  
relented a few months later when my parents promised that I would go  
to college. This was the start in my life. And 17 years later, I did  
go to college, but I naively chose a college that was almost as  
expensive as Stanford, and all of my working-class parents' savings  
were being spent on my college tuition. After six months, I couldn't  
see the value in it. I had no idea what I wanted to do with my life,  
and no idea of how college was going to help me figure it out. And  
here I was, spending all the money my parents had saved their entire  
life. So I decided to drop out and trust that it would all work out  
OK. It was pretty scary at the time, but looking back, it was one of  
the best decisions I ever made. The minute I dropped out, I could  
stop taking the required classes that didn't interest me and begin  
dropping in on the ones that looked far more interesting.

It wasn't all romantic. I didn't have a dorm room so I slept on the  
floor in friends' rooms. I returned Coke bottles for the 5-cent  
deposits to buy food with, and I would walk the 7 miles across town  
every Sunday night to get one good meal a week at the Hare Krishna  
temple. I loved it. And much of what I stumbled into by following my  
curiosity and intuition turned out to be priceless later on. Let me  
give you one example.

Reed College at that time offered perhaps the best calligraphy  
instruction in the country. Throughout the campus every poster, every  
label on every drawer was beautifully hand-calligraphed. Because I  
had dropped out and didn't have to take the normal classes, I decided  
to take a calligraphy class to learn how to do this. I learned about  
serif and sans serif typefaces, about varying the amount of space  
between different letter combinations, about what makes great  
typography great. It was beautiful, historical, artistically subtle  
in a way that science can't capture, and I found it fascinating.

None of this had even a hope of any practical application in my life.  
But 10 years later when we were designing the first Macintosh  
computer, it all came back to me, and we designed it all into the  
Mac. It was the first computer with beautiful typography. If I had  
never dropped in on that single course in college, the Mac would have  
never had multiple typefaces or proportionally spaced fonts, and  
since Windows just copied the Mac, it's likely that no personal  
computer would have them. If I had never dropped out, I would have  
never dropped in on that calligraphy class and personal computers  
might not have the wonderful typography that they do.

Of course it was impossible to connect the dots looking forward when  
I was in college, but it was very, very clear looking backward 10  
years later. Again, you can't connect the dots looking forward. You  
can only connect them looking backward, so you have to trust that the  
dots will somehow connect in your future. You have to trust in  
something?your gut, destiny, life, karma, whatever?because believing  
that the dots will connect down the road will give you the confidence  
to follow your heart, even when it leads you off the well-worn path,  
and that will make all the difference.

My second story is about love and loss. I was lucky I found what I  
loved to do early in life. Woz [Steve Wozniak] and I started Apple in  
my parents' garage when I was 20. We worked hard, and in 10 years,  
Apple had grown from just the two of us in a garage into a $2 billion  
company with over 4,000 employees. We'd just released our finest  
creation, the Macintosh, a year earlier, and I'd just turned 30, and  
then I got fired. How can you get fired from a company you started?  
Well, as Apple grew we hired someone, who I thought was very  
talented, to run the company with me, and for the first year or so,  
things went well. But then our visions of the future began to  
diverge, and eventually we had a falling out. When we did, our board  
of directors sided with him, and so at 30, I was out, and very  
publicly out. What had been the focus of my entire adult life was  
gone, and it was devastating. I really didn't know what to do for a  
few months. I felt that I had let the previous generation of  
entrepreneurs down, that I had dropped the baton as it was being  
passed to me. I met with David Packard and Bob Noyce and tried to  
apologize for screwing up so badly. I was a very public failure, and  
I even thought about running away from the Valley. But something  
slowly began to dawn on me. I still loved what I did. The turn of  
events at Apple had not changed that one bit. I'd been rejected but I  
was still in love. And so I decided to start over.

I didn't see it then, but it turned out that getting fired from Apple  
was the best thing that could have ever happened to me. The heaviness  
of being successful was replaced by the lightness of being a beginner  
again, less sure about everything. It freed me to enter one of the  
most creative periods in my life. During the next five years I  
started a company named NeXT, another company named Pixar and fell in  
love with an amazing woman who would become my wife. Pixar went on to  
create the world's first computer-animated feature film, Toy Story,  
and is now the most successful animation studio in the world.

In a remarkable turn of events, Apple bought NeXT and I returned to  
Apple. And the technology we developed at NeXT is at the heart of  
Apple's current renaissance, and Laurene and I have a wonderful  
family together.

I'm pretty sure none of this would have happened if I hadn't been  
fired from Apple. It was awful-tasting medicine, but I guess the  
patient needed it. Sometimes life's going to hit you in the head with  
a brick. Don't lose faith. I'm convinced that the only thing that  
kept me going was that I loved what I did. You've got to find what  
you love, and that is as true for work as it is for your lovers. Your  
work is going to fill a large part of your life, and the only way to  
be truly satisfied is to do what you believe is great work, and the  
only way to do great work is to love what you do. If you haven't  
found it yet, keep looking and don't settle. As with all matters of  
the heart, you'll know when you find it, and like any great  
relationship it just gets better and better as the years roll on. So  
keep looking. Don't settle.

My third story is about death. When I was 17 I read a quote that went  
something like, "If you live each day as if it was your last, someday  
you'll most certainly be right." It made an impression on me, and  
since then, for the past 33 years, I have looked in the mirror every  
morning and asked myself, "If today were the last day of my life,  
would I want to do what I am about to do today?" And whenever the  
answer has been "no" for too many days in a row, I know I need to  
change something. Remembering that I'll be dead soon is the most  
important thing I've ever encountered to help me make the big choices  
in life, because almost everything?all external expectations, all  
pride, all fear of embarrassment or failure?these things just fall  
away in the face of death, leaving only what is truly important.  
Remembering that you are going to die is the best way I know to avoid  
the trap of thinking you have something to lose. You are already  
naked. There is no reason not to follow your heart.

About a year ago, I was diagnosed with cancer. I had a scan at 7:30  
in the morning, and it clearly showed a tumor on my pancreas. I  
didn't even know what a pancreas was. The doctors told me this was  
almost certainly a type of cancer that is incurable, and that I  
should expect to live no longer than three to six months. My doctor  
advised me to go home and get my affairs in order, which is doctors'  
code for prepare to die. It means to try and tell your kids  
everything you thought you'd have the next 10 years to tell them in  
just a few months. It means to make sure that everything is buttoned  
up so that it will be as easy as possible for your family. It means  
to say your good-byes.

I lived with that diagnosis all day. Later that evening I had a  
biopsy where they stuck an endoscope down my throat, through my  
stomach and into my intestines, put a needle into my pancreas and got  
a few cells from the tumor. I was sedated but my wife, who was there,  
told me that when they viewed the cells under a microscope, the  
doctor started crying, because it turned out to be a very rare form  
of pancreatic cancer that is curable with surgery. I had the surgery  
and, thankfully, I am fine now.

This was the closest I've been to facing death, and I hope it's the  
closest I get for a few more decades. Having lived through it, I can  
now say this to you with a bit more certainty than when death was a  
useful but purely intellectual concept: No one wants to die. Even  
people who want to go to heaven don't want to die to get there, and  
yet death is the destination we all share. No one has ever escaped  
it. And that is as it should be, because death is very likely the  
single best invention of life. It's life's change agent; it clears  
out the old to make way for the new. Right now, the new is you. But  
someday not too long from now, you will gradually become the old and  
be cleared away. Sorry to be so dramatic, but it's quite true. Your  
time is limited, so don't waste it living someone else's life. Don't  
be trapped by dogma, which is living with the results of other  
people's thinking. Don't let the noise of others' opinions drown out  
your own inner voice, and most important, have the courage to follow  
your heart and intuition. They somehow already know what you truly  
want to become. Everything else is secondary.

When I was young, there was an amazing publication called the Whole  
Earth Catalog, which was one of the bibles of my generation. It was  
created by a fellow named Stewart Brand not far from here in Menlo  
Park, and he brought it to life with his poetic touch. This was in  
the late '60s, before personal computers and desktop publishing, so  
it was all made with typewriters, scissors and Polaroid cameras. It  
was sort of like Google in paperback form 35 years before Google came  
along. It was idealistic, overflowing with neat tools and great  
notions. Stewart and his team put out several issues of the Whole  
Earth Catalog, and then when it had run its course, they put out a  
final issue. It was the mid-1970s, and I was your age. On the back  
cover of their final issue was a photograph of an early morning  
country road, the kind you might find yourself hitchhiking on if you  
were so adventurous. Beneath it were the words "stay hungry, stay  
foolish." It was their farewell message as they signed off. "Stay  
hungry, stay foolish." And I have always wished that for myself, and  
now, as you graduate to begin anew, I wish that for you. Stay hungry,  
stay foolish.

More information about the FoRK mailing list