Stanford Commencement by Jobs

“Death is, very likely, the single best invention of life,” said Steve Jobs in a commencement speech to graduates of Stanford University. “It clears out the old to make way for the new.”

This advice may seem dark and dramatic for a commencement speech, however, Jobs own experience with death turns this statement into an important piece of advice for all graduates.

Jobs, now 50 years old, founded Apple Computers Inc. along with his partner Steve Wozniak. Jobs attended Reed College in Portland, Oregon for only a year until he dropped out. Like many college students, Jobs was unsure about what his future held.

Instead of attending college as a full time student, Jobs was a drop in, only attending classes that interested him. One class Jobs mentioned in particular was calligraphy.

This calligraphy class and the eventual creation of the first Apple computer was at the core of one piece of advice that Jobs offered to the graduates: connecting the dots.

Having the knowledge of calligraphy allowed Jobs to implement an attractive typeface on the Macintosh computer. What Jobs conveys to the Stanford graduates through this story is that one’s path in life is not always clear. As Jobs said, one cannot connect the dots looking forward, only looking backwards.

Jobs also discussed how love and loss and play into life, emphasizing the importance of loving what you do.

“Do what you believe is great work,” Jobs told the graduates. “And the only way to do great work, is to love what you do.”

Jobs hit the point of you must love what you do over and over again. Jobs’ love for what he did is what motivated him to continue his work after getting fired from Apple. This advice tells graduates that as long as they love the work that they do, no matter the loss they face, they will always be able to continue to do great work.

The final topic that Jobs talked about was death. Jobs’ close encounter with death came from when he was diagnosed with an incurable form of pancreatic cancer, and was told he only had a few months to live. After a biopsy, the doctors found that the cancer was treatable with surgery. Jobs had the surgery, and is now cancer free.

Jobs told the graduates is that death is a very useful motivational tool. Living each day with the idea that it could be your last will keep you wanting to always do great work.

“Remembering that I’ll be dead soon is the most important tool I’ve ever encountered,” Jobs told the graduates. “If you live each day as if it’s your last, one day you’ll most certainly be right.”

Nobody wants to die, and therefore, nobody thinks about dying as being a possibility. Jobs told the graduates to always keep death in your mind. If too many days pass and you do not feel like you have been living each day like it is your last, it is time for something to change.

Jobs’ speech dove deep into the personal struggles that he experienced during his life. His story of success through hard times is one that any student coming into the real world can learn from.

The themes of connecting the dots, love and loss and death show aspects of life that many may struggle with. Jobs also reminds the graduates that they are the new wave of thinkers in the world. In closing, with the graduates ready to move into the world, Jobs tells the graduates the bit of advice that he adheres to most; to always stay hungry and always stay foolish.


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