Transcript of Commencement Speech at Stanford given by Steve Jobs
| 6/14/2005 | Steve Jobs
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
I dropped out of Reed College after the first six months but then
stayed around as a drop-in for another eighteen 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 seventeen years later, I did
go to college, but I na´vely 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
five-cent deposits to buy food with, and I would walk the seven
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
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 that
calligraphy class and personals 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
10 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--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 and I started Apple in my parents'
garage when I was twenty. We worked hard and in ten 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 thirty, 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 thirty, 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 Lorene and I have a wonderful
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 ten 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 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 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, heart and intuition. They somehow
already know what you truly want to become. Everything else is
When I was young, there was an amazing publication called The
Whole Earth Catalogue, which was one of the bibles of my generation.
It was created by a fellow named Stuart Brand not far from here in
Menlo Park, and he brought it to life with his poetic touch. This
was in the late Sixties, 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
thirty-five years before Google came along. I was idealistic,
overflowing with neat tools and great notions. Stuart and his team
put out several issues of the The Whole Earth Catalogue, and then
when it had run its course, they put out a final issue. It was the
mid-Seventies 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 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.