Steve Jobs' Commencement Speech @ Stanford|
Jul 14, 2005, 12:36a - Life
I finally got a hold of the full-text of Steve Jobs' commencement speech at Stanford. I found it particularly inspiring, so I've copied it below. He delivered this speech on June 12, 2005.
"I am honored to be with you today at your commencement from one of the
finest universities in the world. I never graduated from college.
Truth be told, 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 6 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
college 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 have
an unexpected baby boy; do you want him?" They said: "Of course." My
biological mother later found out 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 someday go to
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 how college was going to help me figure it
out. And here I was spending all of 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 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¢ 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
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 san 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 ten 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 this 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 backwards ten years later.
Again, you can't connect the dots looking forward; you can only
connect them looking backwards. 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. This approach has never let
me down, and it has made all the difference in my life.
My second story is about love and loss.
I was lucky – I found what I loved to do early in life. Woz 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 4000 employees. We had just released our
finest creation - the Macintosh - a year earlier, and I had 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. 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
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 had
been rejected, but I was still in love. And so I decided to start
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 of 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 worlds 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, I retuned 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 hits 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 your 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. 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 until you find
it. 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 tool 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 doctor's code for prepare
to die. It means to try to 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 everything is buttoned up so that it will be as easy as
possible for your family. It means to say your goodbyes.
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 doctors
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
I'm 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 is 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 is
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 other's 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 1960's, 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, and overflowing with neat tools and great
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.
Thank you all very much. "
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- Jul 14, 2005, 9:43a
You can get the mp3 here:
- Aug 24, 2005, 8:15a
This story is definetely inspiring. I was just browsing and came across your blog, and onto this article. Initially, i thought, it will be a boring one. But as i kept on reading, soem of the ones, touched me, and at one point, i almost felt like crying ( do not know why ), when he touched the death issue!.
- Oct 1, 2015, 7:41p
I sent a link to this page to a few friends.
I'm just going to write my thoughts here as I process this...
This speech touches so many chords with me. I've been fortunate to have the freedom to "trust my gut, destiny, life or whatever." I've led a life rich with experience, even if I have few possessions.
I am grateful for the opportunities in my life to really get to know people on a deep level. It never ceases to amaze me how not following your gut and trusting yourself crushes people's souls.
It's interesting how Jobs has what seemed to be an insatiable quest for knowledge. He was curious. I recently read how curious people are happier than others.
I also love how the "connect the dots" piece showed that all learning will somehow become useful at some point. There is joy in just learning for the sake of learning. And so interesting that those who can transfer knowledge find applications to what they've learned in such seemingly unrelated ways.
I believe that everything, good and bad, happens for a reason. life is a journey to become our best selves and we are given opportunities, sometimes in the form of success, and sometimes in the form of pain, that allow us to become the people we need to be to give our best selves to the world. It's interesting to me that Jobs had the mindset to look back and see that getting fired at Apple was the best thing that could have happened to him. And that single event has certainly made my life better.
His statement that you have to find what you love is so meaningful. It reminds me of so of Wayne Dyer's earlier books where he talks about a world where everyone just does what's in their heart... where people allow their personal gifts to envelope them and operate from there.
Probably the biggest thing I'll take from this is his quote that I wrote on my board "If today were the last day of my life, would I want to do what I am about to do today?" I absolutely love that. When I first read it, I was thinking "Sometimes I don't do what I'd do if today was the last day of my life. And it seems unrealistic to do that every day. But, his explanation about doing it too many days in a row makes it practical for me.
Truth be told, I'm very fortunate that as I look back on the last 15 years or so, and most of those days I HAVE lived as if they were my last... without even using that a criterion at the time. That's a pretty remarkable thing to say in retrospect.
I also loved his statement about having limited time to live, so don't waste it living it the way someone else wants you to. Besides unfaced fear, I believe this is the greatest human tragedy. It stifles so much love and joy in the world. We need to be allowed to live our life our way to fully live.
Oh boy, one more thing... the "Stay foolish" quote. Another great tragedy is thinking that there is something wrong with making mistakes. I read once a long time ago, I forget where now, that if you aren't making mistakes, you aren't pushing yourself hard enough. I try to push myself so I just start making mistakes, just beyond my limitations. I've found that my boundaries expand as yesterday's limits become today's possibilities.
I guess I like this speech so much because it validates so many of my personal beliefs. I live a very different life than most people, and I'm quite confident in the choices and sacrifices I've made, but it's still nice to have affirmation from someone so successful. Enjoy- John Yost