Steve Jobs Commencement Speech

By Katie Spiro, Gardner-Webb Media Student

“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.”

Those are the words spoken by Steve Jobs, CEO of Apple Inc., at Stanford
University’s Commencement in May 2005.  A global corporation that designs and markets consumer electronics, computer software, and personal computers– Apple is the textbook definition of success, but as Jobs reminded these students– no story begins this way.

Offering 3 stories he feels to be the defining points in his
life, Jobs communicates with his graduating audience the importance of recognizing
death as the “…single best invention of Life.” He also suggests this knowledge to be used as a motivator for life, not a hindrance of inevitability.

Jobs was delegated the task of keynote speaker at a university
graduation, though he himself never graduated from college. “…This is the
closest I’ve ever gotten to a college graduation” remarked Jobs, a drop out of
Reed College. He offered this information at the start of his speech, setting an ironic tone to a series of events that would continue to guide his speech.

Jobs was the adopted son of a married couple who both lack college
degrees– an issue his birth mother, an unwed college graduate student,
eventually overcame. It was only after a promised college education for Jobs
that his birth mother signed the final adoption papers—setting his life in
course for a college degree.

6-months of college was enough for Jobs. He dropped out, but remained in the area where his
former college was located. “I couldn’t see the value in it… and here I was spending all of the money my
parents had saved their entire lives.” He collected coke bottle nickels for food money,
ate at the Hare Krishna temple once a week, and slept on the floor of a
friend’s dorm room. His life took a drastically different turn.
At the time, Jobs’ ex-college specialized in one of the best
calligraphy institutions in the country. Jobs described the calligraphy he saw around campus as “…beautiful, historical, artistically subtle in a way that science can’t capture, and I found it fascinating.” Jobs enrolled in one of these calligraphy courses after he dropped out, never expecting the skills he learned within the course to be applied as proportional typography in the first Macintosh computer he would invent 10 years later.

At the close of the first of his three stories, Jobs said, “…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…” Jobs next story focused on his trust in this philosophy.

At the start of his career as an entrepreneur, Jobs found what he loved to do and after 10 years of ‘hard work’, one family garage, and one colleague, Jobs created Apple—a now $2 billion company with over 4,000 employees. It was only after the release of the
Macintosh computer, Jobs’ “finest creation,” that the partners had a disintegration that resulted in the firing of Jobs, another drastic turn.

“I had been rejected, but I was still in love. And so I decided to start over,” said Jobs. At that, the creation of NeXT, or what would become Pixar, was set into motion. The world’s first computer animated feature film, Toy Story, sky-rocketed the development of NeXT/ Pixar. The company, founded by Jobs, was eventually bought by Apple, bringing Jobs and Apple back into unity, as well as introducing Jobs to his future wife.

“I’m pretty sure none of this would have happened if I hadn’t
been fired from Apple,” said Jobs, who further lamented on the importance of
staying true to what the heart desires.

Leading into his third and final story, Jobs shared a
favorite personal quote he read at age 17, “If you live each day as if it were
your last, someday you’ll most certainly be right.” Jobs applied this to his
own life by asking himself a question in the mirror every day, “If
today were the last day of my life, would I want to do what I am about to do
today?”

Recognizing the inevitability of death helped Jobs recognize
the viability of life, “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.”
Jobs realized that a life invested in temporary pleasures, excursions, and ideas
of living would evaporate the day he faced death. By avoiding the trap of ‘external
expectations,’ Jobs was able to follow his heart and leave his own legacy.

A scare of pancreatic cancer in 2004 brought this same message
home for Jobs. “My doctor advised me to go home and get my affairs in order,
which is doctor’s code for prepare to die.” A later biopsy revealed the cancer
to be curable, placing death back on the shelf for Jobs as a ‘purely intellectual
concept.’ This experience turned Jobs attention to the clock and taught him to live with a sense of urgency.

At the close of his speech, Jobs offered the graduating students
one last piece of advice that he recalled from the back cover of the last
issue of the popular catalog, The World Earth Catalog. “Stay Hungry. Stay Foolish.” said Jobs, and with that, he left the podium.

This article was written with the utmost respect to Mr. Steve Jobs
who passed October 5th of 2011.

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