It's spring, which mean thoughts turn oh so naturally towards love and graduating.
I love commencement addresses. The really good ones. Which are, in my experience, a tiny fraction of ones given. Then again, in my experience, the graduate is usually hung-over and wondering if the dean is going to yell "psych!" and pull the diploma back when he reaches for it. So maybe my experience isn't exactly universal.
Ne'ertheless, I feel quite confident that this particular address—Jon Stewart's to William and Mary, back in May of 2004—is at the top of the class.
Thank you. Thank you, Mr. President, I had forgotten how crushingly dull these ceremonies are. Thank you.
My best to the choir. I have to say, that song never grows old for me. Whenever I hear that song, it reminds me of nothing.
I am honored to be here, I do have a confession to make before we get going that I should explain very quickly. When I am not on television, this is actually how I dress. I apologize, but this is -- thank you. Thank you. There’s something very freeing about it. I congratulate the students for being able to walk even a half a mile in this non-breathable fabric in the Williamsburg heat. I am sure the environment that now exists under your robes are the same conditions that primordial life began on this earth.
I know there were some parents that were concerned about my speech here tonight, and I want to assure you that you will not hear any language that is not common at, say, a dock workers union meeting, or Tourrett’s convention, or profanity seminar. Rest assured.
I am honored to be here and to receive this honorary doctorate. When I think back to the people that have been in this position before me from Benjamin Franklin to Queen Noor of Jordan, I can’t help but wonder what has happened to this place. Seriously, it saddens me. As a person, I'm honored to get it; as an alumnus, I have to say I believe we can do better. And I believe we should. But it has always been a dream of mine to receive a doctorate and to know that today, without putting in any effort, I will. It’s incredibly gratifying. Thank you. No, that’s very nice of you, I appreciate it. Thank you.
I’m sure my fellow doctoral graduates -- who have spent so long toiling in academia, sinking into debt, sacrificing God knows how many years of what, in truth, is a piece of parchment that has been so devalued by our instant gratification culture as to have been rendered meaningless -- will join in congratulating me. Thank you.
But today isn’t about how my presence here devalues this fine institution. It is about you, the graduates. I’m honored to be here to congratulate you today. Today is the day you enter into the real world, and I should give you a few pointers on what it is. It’s actually not that different from the environment here. The biggest difference is you will now be paying for things, and the real world is not surrounded by three-foot brick wall. And the real world is not a restoration. If you see people in the real world making bricks out of straw and water, those people are not colonial re-enactors -- they are poor. Help them. And in the real world, there is not as much candle lighting. I don’t really know what it is about this campus and candle lighting, but I wish it would stop. We only have so much wax, people.
Lets talk about the real world for a moment. We had been discussing it earlier, and I -- I wanted to bring this up to you earlier about the real world, and -- and this is I guess as good a time as any. I don’t really know to put this, so I’ll be blunt. We broke it. Please don’t be mad. I know we were supposed to bequeath to the next generation a world better than the one we were handed. So, sorry.
I don’t know if you’ve been following the news lately, but it just kinda got away from us. Somewhere between the gold rush of easy internet profits and an arrogant sense of endless empire, we heard kind of a pinging noise, and then the damn thing just died on us. So I apologize.
But here’s the good news. You fix this thing, you’re the next greatest generation, people. You do this -- and I believe you can -- you win this war on terror, and Tom Brokaw’s kissing your ass from here to Tikrit, let me tell ya. And even if you don’t, you’re not gonna have much trouble surpassing my generation. If you end up getting your picture taken next to a naked guy pile of enemy prisoners and don’t give the thumbs up you’ve outdid us.
We declared war on terror. We declared war on terror -- it’s not even a noun, so, good luck. After we defeat it, I’m sure we’ll take on that bastard ennui.
But obviously that’s the world. What about your lives? What piece of wisdom can I impart to you about my journey that will somehow ease your transition from college back to your parents' basement?
I know some of you are nostalgic today, filled with excitement and perhaps uncertainty at what the future holds. I know six of you are trying to figure out how to make a bong out of your caps. I believe you are members of Psi U. Hey that did work. Thank you for the reference.
So I thought I’d talk a little bit about my experience here at William and Mary. It was very long ago, and if you had been to William and Mary while I was here and found out that I would be the commencement speaker 20 years later, you would be somewhat surprised, and probably somewhat angry. I came to William and Mary because as a Jewish person I wanted to explore the rich tapestry of Judaica that is Southern Virginia. Imagine my surprise when I realized “The Tribe” was not what I thought it meant.
In 1980 I was 17 years old. When I moved to Williamsburg, my hall was in the basement of Yates, which combined the cheerfulness of a bomb shelter with the prison-like comfort of the group shower. As a freshman I was quite a catch. Less than five feet tall, yet my head is the same size it is now. Didn’t even really look like a head, it looked more like a container for a head. I looked like a Peanuts character. Peanuts characters had terrible acne. But what I lacked in looks I made up for with a repugnant personality.
In 1981 I lost my virginity, only to gain it back again on appeal in 1983. You could say that my one saving grace was academics where I excelled, but I did not.
And yet now I live in the rarified air of celebrity, of mega stardom. My life a series of anonymous Hollywood orgies and Kabala center brunches with the cast of Friends. At least that’s what my handlers tell me. I’m actually too valuable to live my own life and spend most of my days in a vegetable crisper to remain fake news anchor fresh.
So I know that the decisions that I made after college worked out. But at the time I didn’t know that they would. See college is not necessarily predictive of your future success. And it’s the kind of thing where the path that I chose obviously wouldn’t work for you. For one, you’re not very funny.
So how do you know what is the right path to choose to get the result that you desire? And the honest answer is this. You won’t. And accepting that greatly eases the anxiety of your life experience.
I was not exceptional here, and am not now. I was mediocre here. And I’m not saying aim low. Not everybody can wander around in an alcoholic haze and then at 40 just, you know, decide to be President. You’ve got to really work hard to try to...I was actually referring to my father.
When I left William and Mary I was shell-shocked. Because when you’re in college it’s very clear what you have to do to succeed. And I imagine here everybody knows exactly the number of credits they needed to graduate, where they had to buckle down, which introductory psychology class would pad out the schedule. You knew what you had to do to get to this college and to graduate from it. But the unfortunate, yet truly exciting thing about your life, is there is no core curriculum. The entire place is an elective. The paths are infinite and the results uncertain. And it can be maddening to those that go here, especially here, because your strength has always been achievement. So if there’s any real advice I can give you it’s this: College is something you complete; life is something you experience.
So don’t worry about your grade or the results or success. Success is defined in myriad ways, and you will find it, and people will no longer be grading you, but it will come from your own internal sense of decency which I imagine, after going through the program here, is quite strong. Love what you do. (Although I’m sure downloading illegal files…but, nah, that’s a different story.)
Love what you do. Get good at it. Competence is a rare commodity in this day and age. And let the chips fall where they may.
And the last thing I want to address is the idea that somehow this new generation is not as prepared for the sacrifice and the tenacity that will be needed in the difficult times ahead. I have not found this generation to be cynical or apathetic or selfish. They are as strong and as decent as any people that I have met. And I will say this, on my way down here I stopped at Bethesda Naval, and when you talk to the young kids that are there that have just been back from Iraq and Afghanistan, you don’t have the worry about the future that you hear from so many that are not a part of this generation but judging it from above.
And the other thing….that I will say is, when I spoke earlier about the world being broke, I was somewhat being facetious, because every generation has their challenge. And things change rapidly, and life gets better in an instant.
I was in New York on 9-11 when the towers came down. I lived 14 blocks from the twin towers. And when they came down, I thought that the world had ended. And I remember walking around in a daze for weeks. And Mayor Giuliani had said to the city, “You’ve got to get back to normal. We’ve got to show that things can change and get back to what they were.”
And one day I was coming out of my building, and on my stoop, was a man who was crouched over, and he appeared to be in deep thought. And as I got closer to him I realized, he was playing with himself. And that’s when I thought, "You know what, we’re gonna be OK."
Thank you. Congratulations. I honor you. Good Night. Thank you.
May 21, 2004
Stephen Colbert gave the 2006 Commencement Address at Knox College yesterday.
I don’t think I need to add anything to that, do I? Lucky little bastards. I say that with nothing but love. And envy. Mainly just envy.
by Stephen Colbert
June 3, 2006
Thank you , thank you very much. First of all, I’m facing a little bit of a conundrum here. My name is Stephen Colbert, but I actually play someone on television named Stephen Colbert, who looks like me, and talks like me, but who says things with a straight face he doesn’t mean. And I’m not sure which one of us you invited to speak here today. So, with your indulgence, I’m just going to talk and I’m going to let you figure it out.
I wanted to say something about the Umberto Eco quote that was used earlier from The Name of the Rose. That book fascinated me because in it, these people are killed for trying to get out of this library a book about comedy, Aristotle’s Commentary on Comedy. And what’s interesting to me is, one of the arguments they have in the book is that comedy is bad because nowhere in the New Testament does it say that Jesus laughed. It said that Jesus wept, but never did he laugh. But, I don’t think you actually have to say it, for us to imagine Jesus laughing. In the famous episode where there’s a storm on the lake, and the fishermen are out there, and they see Jesus on the shore, and Jesus walks across the stormy water to the boat. And St. Peter thinks, "I can do this. I can do this. He keeps telling us to have faith when it comes to anything, and I can do this." So he steps out of the boat and he walks for—I don’t know, it doesn’t say—let’s say a few feet, without sinking into the waves. Then he looks down, and he sees how stormy the seas are. He loses his faith and he begins to sink. And Jesus hot-foots it over and pulls him from the waves and says, "Oh you of little faith." I can’t imagine Jesus wasn’t suppressing a laugh. How hilarious must it have been to watch Peter—like Wiley Coyote—take three steps on the water and sink then, into the waves.
Well it’s an honor to be giving your Commencement address here today at Knox College. I want to thank Mr. Podesta for asking me two, two and a half years ago, was it? Something like that? We were in Aspen. You know...being people who go to Aspen. He asked me if I would give a speech at Knox College, and I think it was the altitude, but I said yes. I’m very glad that I did.
On a beautiful day like this I’m reminded of my own graduation 20 years ago, at Northwestern University. I didn’t start there, I finished there on the graduation day, a beautiful day like this. We’re all in our gowns. I go up on the podium to get my leather folder with my diploma in it. And as I get it, from the Dean, she leans in close to me and she smiles, and she says...[train whistle] that’s my ride, actually. I have got to go, I’m sorry. [Heads off stage.] Evidently that happens a lot here. ...So, I’m getting my folder, and the Dean leans into me, shakes my hand and says, "I’m sorry." I have no idea what she means. So I go back to my seat and I open it up. And, instead of having a diploma inside, there’s a scrap—a torn scrap of paper—that has scrawled on it, "See me." I kid you not.
Evidently I had an incomplete in an independent study that I had failed to complete. And I did not have enough credits. And, let me tell you, when your whole family shows up and you get to have your picture taken with them—and instead of holding up your diploma, you hold up the torn corner of a yellow legal pad—that is a humbling experience. But eventually, I finished. I got my credits and next year at Christmas time, they have mid-year graduation. And I went there to get my diploma then, they said that I had an overdue library fine and they wouldn’t give it to me again. And they eventually mailed it to me...I think. I’m pretty sure I graduated from college. But I guess the question is, why have a two-time commencement loser like me speak to you? Well, one of the reasons they already mentioned...I recovered from that slow start. And I was recently named by Time magazine one of the 100 Most Influential People in the World! Yeah—give it up for me! Basic cable—the world! I guess they have more in Sub-Saharan Africa than I thought. I’m right here on the cover between Katie Couric and Bono. That’s my picture—a sexy little sandwich between those two.
But if you do the math, there are 100 Most Influential People in the World. There are 6.5 billion people in the world. That means that today I am here representing 65 million people. That’s as big as some countries. What country has about 65 million people? Iran? Iran has 65 million people. So, for all intents and purposes, I’m here representing Iran today. Don’t shoot.
But the best reason for me to come to speak at Knox College is that I attended Knox College. This is part of my personal history that you will rarely see reported. Partly, because the press doesn’t do the proper research. But mostly because…it is not true! I just made it up, so this moment would be more poignant for all of us. How great would it be if I could actually come back here—if I was coming back to my alma mater to be honored like this. I could share with you all my happy memories that I spent here in...Galesburg, Illinois. Hanging out at the Seymour Hall, right? Seymour Hall? You know, all of us alumni, we remember Seymour Hall, playing those drinking games. We played a game called Lincoln-Douglas. Great game. What you do, is act out the Lincoln-Douglas debate and any time one of the guys mentions the Dred Scott decision you have to chug a beer. Well, technically 3/5 of a beer. [groans from audience] You DO have a good education!
I wasn’t sure if anybody was going to get that joke.
I soon learned that a frat house—oops—divided against itself cannot stand.
How can I forget the cheering on the team—the Knox College Knockers? Oh, no it’s the Prairie Fire. Seriously, the Prairie Fire. Your team is named after something that can get you federal disaster relief? I assume the "Flash Floods" was taken.
Oh, yes, the memories are so fresh. It seems like just yesterday I made them up. But the history, you don’t have to tell me the history of Knox College. Your Web site is very thorough. The college itself has long been known for diversity. I am myself a supporter of diversity. I myself have an interracial marriage. I am Irish and my wife is Scottish. But we work it out. And it is fitting, most fitting, that I speak at Knox College today because it was founded by abolitionists. And I gotta say, I’m going to go out on the limb here, I believe that slavery was wrong. No, I don’t care who that upsets. I just hope the mainstream media give me the credit for the courage it took to say that today. I know the blogosphere is just going to explode tomorrow. But enough about me.... if there can be enough about me.
Today is about you—you who have worked so hard to pack your heads with learning until your skulls are all plump like—sausage of knowledge. It’s an apt metaphor, don’t question it. For now your time at college is at an end. Now you are leaving here. And this leads me to a question that just isn’t asked enough at commencement. Why are you leaving here?
This seems like a very nice place. You have a lovely Web site. Have you seen the world outside lately? They are playing for KEEPS out there, folks. My God, I couldn’t wait to get here today just so I could take a breather from the real world. I don’t know if they told you what’s happened while you’ve matriculated here for the past four years. The world is waiting for you people with a club. Unprecedented changes are happening in the last four years. Like globalization. We now live in a hyperconnected, global economic outsourced society. Now there are positives and minuses here. And a positive is that globalization helps us understand and learn from otherwise foreign cultures. For example, I now know how to ask for a Happy Meal in five different languages. In Paris, I’d like a "Repas Heureux" In Madrid a "Comida Feliz" In Calcutta, a "Kushkana, hold the beef." In Tokyo, a "Happy Seto" And in Berlin, I can order what is perhaps the least happy sounding Happy Meal, a "Glugzig Malzeiht."
Also globalization, e-mail, cell phones interconnect our nations like never before. It is possible for even the most insulated American to have friends from all over the world. For instance, I recently received an e-mail asking me to help a deposed Nigerian prince who is looking for a business partner to recuperate his fortune. Thanks to the flexibility of global banking, a Swiss bank account is ready and waiting for my share of his money. I know, because I just e-mailed him my Social Security number. Unfortunately for you job seekers, corporations searching for a better bottom line have moved many of their operations overseas, whether it’s a customer service operator, a power factory foreman, or an American flag manufacturer. They’re just as likely to be found in Shanghai as Omaha. In fact, outsourcing is so easy that I had this speech today written by a young man named Panjeeb from Bangalore.
If you don’t like the jokes, I assure you they were much funnier in Urdu...
And when you enter the workforce, you will find competition from those crossing our all-too-poorest borders. Now I know you’re all going to say, "Stephen, Stephen, immigrants built America." Yes, and here’s the thing—it’s built now. I think it was finished in the 70s sometime. From this point it’s only a touch-up and repair job. Essentially if Congress enacts it, soon English will be the official language of America. Because if we surrender the national anthem, the next thing you know, they’ll be translating the Bible. God wrote it in English for a reason! So it could be taught in our public schools.
So we must build walls. A wall across the entire southern border. That’s the answer. Obviously that may not be enough, maybe a moat in front of it, or a fire-pit. Maybe a flaming moat, filled with fire-proof crocodiles. And another across our northern border as well. Keep those Canadians with their socialized medicine and their skunky beer out. And because immigrants can swim, we’ll probably want to wall off the coasts as well. And while we’re at it, we need to put up a dome, in case they have catapults. And we’ll punch some holes in it so we can breathe. Breathe free. Time for illegal immigrants to go—right after they finish building those walls. Yes, yes, I agree with me.
There are so many challenges facing this next generation, and, as they said earlier, you are up for these challenges. And I agree, except that I don’t think you are. I don’t know if you’re tough enough to handle this. You are the most cuddled generation in history. I belong to the last generation that did not have to be in a car seat. You had to be in car seats. I did not have to wear a helmet when I rode my bike. You do. You have to wear helmets when you go swimming, right? In case you bump your head against the side of the pool. Oh, by the way, I should have said, my speech today may contain some peanut products.
My mother had 11 children: Jimmy, Eddie, Mary, Billy, Morgan, Tommy, Jay, Lou, Paul, Peter, Stephen. You may applaud my mother’s womb. Thanks, I’ll let her know. She could never protect us the way you all have been protected. She couldn’t fit 11 car seats. She would just open the back of her Town & Country—stack us like cord wood: four this way, four that way, and she put crushed glass in the empty spaces to keep it steady. Then she would roll up all the windows in the winter time and light up a cigarette. When I die I will not need to be embalmed, because as a child my mother hickory-smoked me.
I mean even these ceremonies are too safe. I mean just this mortarboard...look, it’s padded. It’s padded everywhere. When I graduated from college, we had these edges sharpened. When we threw ours up in the air, we knew some of us weren’t coming home.
But you have one thing that may save you, and that is your youth. This is your great strength. It is also why I hate and fear you. It has been said that children are our future. But does that not also mean that we are their past? You are here to replace us. I don’t understand why we’re here helping and honoring them. You do not see union workers holding benefits for robots.
You seem nice enough, so I’ll try to give you some advice. First of all, when you go to apply for your first job, don’t wear these robes. Medieval garb does not instill confidence in your employers—unless you’re applying to be a scrivener. And if someone does offer you a job, take it. You can always quit later. Then at least you’ll be one of the unemployed as opposed to one of the never-employed. Nothing looks worse on a resume than nothing.
So, say "yes." In fact, say "yes" as often as you can. When I was starting out in Chicago, doing improvisational theatre with Second City and other places, there was really only one rule I was taught about improv. That was, "yes-and." In this case, "yes-and" is a verb. To "yes-and." I yes-and, you yes-and, he, she or it yes-ands. And yes-anding means that when you go onstage, they provide a theme, no script. You have no idea what’s going to happen, maybe with someone you’ve never met before. To build a scene, you have to accept. To build anything onstage, you have to accept what the other has provided or initiated on stage. They say you’re doctors—you’re doctors. And then, you add to that: We’re doctors and we’re trapped in a cave. That’s the "-and". And hopefully they "yes-and" you back. You have to keep your eyes open when you do this. You have to be aware of what the other performer is offering you, so that you can agree and add to it. And through this agreement, you can improvise a scene or a one-act play. And because, by following each other’s lead, neither of you are really in control. It’s more of a mutual discovery than a solo adventure. What happens in a scene is often as much a surprise to you as it is to the audience.
Well, you are about to start the greatest improvisation of all. No script. No idea what’s going to happen, often with people and places you have never seen before. And you are not in control. So say "yes." And if you’re lucky, you’ll find people who will say "yes" back.
Now will saying yes get you in trouble at times? Will saying yes lead you to doing some foolish things? Yes it will. But don’t be afraid to be a fool. Remember, you cannot be both young and wise. Young people who pretend to be wise to the ways of the world are mostly cynics. Cynicism masquerades as wisdom, but it is the farthest thing from it. Because cynics don’t learn anything. Because cynicism is a self-imposed blinder, a rejection of the world because we are afraid it will hurt us or disappoint us. Cynics always say no. But saying yes begins things. Saying yes is how things grow. Saying yes leads to knowledge. Yes is for young people. So for as long as you have the strength to, say yes.
And that’s The Word.
I have two last pieces of advice. First, being pre-approved for a credit card does not mean you have to apply for it. And lastly, the best career advice I can give you is to get your own TV show. It pays well, the hours are good, and you are famous. And eventually some very nice people will give you a Doctorate in Fine Arts for doing jack squat.
Congratulations to the class of 2006. Thank you for the honor today.
Today’s Bruce Springsteen’s birthday. In honor of one of the great non-sell-outs of our times, I present a commencement address by another of our greatest non-sell-outs, Bill Watterson, the brilliant creator of Calvin and Hobbes.
Some Thoughts on the Real World by One Who Glimpsed It and Fled
by Bill Watterson
I have a recurring dream about Kenyon. In it, I'm walking to the post office on the way to my first class at the start of the school year. Suddenly it occurs to me that I don't have my schedule memorized, and I'm not sure which classes I'm taking, or where exactly I'm supposed to be going.
As I walk up the steps to the postoffice, I realize I don't have my box key, and in fact, I can't remember what my box number is. I'm certain that everyone I know has written me a letter, but I can't get them. I get more flustered and annoyed by the minute. I head back to Middle Path, racking my brains and asking myself, "How many more years until I graduate? ...Wait, didn't I graduate already?? How old AM I?" Then I wake up.
Experience is food for the brain. And four years at Kenyon is a rich meal. I suppose it should be no surprise that your brains will probably burp up Kenyon for a long time. And I think the reason I keep having the dream is because its central image is a metaphor for a good part of life: that is, not knowing where you're going or what you're doing.
I graduated exactly ten years ago. That doesn't give me a great deal of experience to speak from, but I'm emboldened by the fact that I can't remember a bit of MY commencement, and I trust that in half an hour, you won't remember of yours either.
In the middle of my sophomore year at Kenyon, I decided to paint a copy of Michelangelo's "Creation of Adam" from the Sistine Chapel on the ceiling of my dorm room. By standing on a chair, I could reach the ceiling, and I taped off a section, made a grid, and started to copy the picture from my art history book.
Working with your arm over your head is hard work, so a few of my more ingenious friends rigged up a scaffold for me by stacking two chairs on my bed, and laying the table from the hall lounge across the chairs and over to the top of my closet. By climbing up onto my bed and up the chairs, I could hoist myself onto the table, and lie in relative comfort two feet under my painting. My roommate would then hand up my paints, and I could work for several hours at a stretch.
The picture took me months to do, and in fact, I didn't finish the work until very near the end of the school year. I wasn't much of a painter then, but what the work lacked in color sense and technical flourish, it gained in the incongruity of having a High Renaissance masterpiece in a college dorm that had the unmistakable odor of old beer cans and older laundry.
The painting lent an air of cosmic grandeur to my room, and it seemed to put life into a larger perspective. Those boring, flowery English poets didn't seem quite so important, when right above my head God was transmitting the spark of life to man.
My friends and I liked the finished painting so much in fact, that we decided I should ask permission to do it. As you might expect, the housing director was curious to know why I wanted to paint this elaborate picture on my ceiling a few weeks before school let out. Well, you don't get to be a sophomore at Kenyon without learning how to fabricate ideas you never had, but I guess it was obvious that my idea was being proposed retroactively. It ended up that I was allowed to paint the picture, so long as I painted over it and returned the ceiling to normal at the end of the year. And that's what I did.
Despite the futility of the whole episode, my fondest memories of college are times like these, where things were done out of some inexplicable inner imperative, rather than because the work was demanded. Clearly, I never spent as much time or work on any authorized art project, or any poli sci paper, as I spent on this one act of vandalism.
It's surprising how hard we'll work when the work is done just for ourselves. And with all due respect to John Stuart Mill, maybe utilitarianism is overrated. If I've learned one thing from being a cartoonist, it's how important playing is to creativity and happiness. My job is essentially to come up with 365 ideas a year.
If you ever want to find out just how uninteresting you really are, get a job where the quality and frequency of your thoughts determine your livelihood. I've found that the only way I can keep writing every day, year after year, is to let my mind wander into new territories. To do that, I've had to cultivate a kind of mental playfulness.
We're not really taught how to recreate constructively. We need to do more than find diversions; we need to restore and expand ourselves. Our idea of relaxing is all too often to plop down in front of the television set and let its pandering idiocy liquefy our brains. Shutting off the thought process is not rejuvenating; the mind is like a car battery—it recharges by running.
You may be surprised to find how quickly daily routine and the demands of "just getting by" absorb your waking hours. You may be surprised to find how quickly you start to see your politics and religion become matters of habit rather than thought and inquiry. You may be surprised to find how quickly you start to see your life in terms of other people's expectations rather than issues. You may be surprised to find out how quickly reading a good book sounds like a luxury.
At school, new ideas are thrust at you every day. Out in the world, you'll have to find the inner motivation to search for new ideas on your own. With any luck at all, you'll never need to take an idea and squeeze a punchline out of it, but as bright, creative people, you'll be called upon to generate ideas and solutions all your lives. Letting your mind play is the best way to solve problems.
For me, it's been liberating to put myself in the mind of a fictitious six year-old each day, and rediscover my own curiosity. I've been amazed at how one ideas leads to others if I allow my mind to play and wander. I know a lot about dinosaurs now, and the information has helped me out of quite a few deadlines.
A playful mind is inquisitive, and learning is fun. If you indulge your natural curiosity and retain a sense of fun in new experience, I think you'll find it functions as a sort of shock absorber for the bumpy road ahead.
So, what's it like in the real world? Well, the food is better, but beyond that, I don't recommend it.
I don't look back on my first few years out of school with much affection, and if I could have talked to you six months ago, I'd have encouraged you all to flunk some classes and postpone this moment as long as possible. But now it's too late.
Unfortunately, that was all the advice I really had. When I was sitting where you are, I was one of the lucky few who had a cushy job waiting for me. I'd drawn political cartoons for the Collegian for four years, and the Cincinnati Post had hired me as an editorial cartoonist. All my friends were either dreading the infamous first year of law school, or despondent about their chances of convincing anyone that a history degree had any real application outside of academia.
Boy, was I smug.
As it turned out, my editor instantly regretted his decision to hire me. By the end of the summer, I'd been given notice; by the beginning of winter, I was in an unemployment line; and by the end of my first year away from Kenyon, I was broke and living with my parents again. You can imagine how upset my dad was when he learned that Kenyon doesn't give refunds.
Watching my career explode on the lauchpad caused some soul searching. I eventually admitted that I didn't have what it takes to be a good political cartoonist, that is, an interest in politics, and I returned to my firs love, comic strips.
For years I got nothing but rejection letters, and I was forced to accept a real job.
A REAL job is a job you hate. I designed car ads and grocery ads in the windowless basement of a convenience store, and I hated every single minute of the 4-1/2 million minutes I worked there. My fellow prisoners at work were basically concerned about how to punch the time clock at the perfect second where they would earn another 20 cents without doing any work for it.
It was incredible: after every break, the entire staff would stand around in the garage where the time clock was, and wait for that last click. And after my used car needed the head gasket replaced twice, I waited in the garage too.
It's funny how at Kenyon, you take for granted that the people around you think about more than the last episode of Dynasty. I guess that's what it means to be in an ivory tower.
Anyway, after a few months at this job, I was starved for some life of the mind that, during my lunch break, I used to read those poli sci books that I'd somehow never quite finished when I was here. Some of those books were actually kind of interesting. It was a rude shock to see just how empty and robotic life can be when you don't care about what you're doing, and the only reason you're there is to pay the bills.
Thoreau said, "the mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation."
That's one of those dumb cocktail quotations that will strike fear in your heart as you get older. Actually, I was leading a life of loud desperation.
When it seemed I would be writing about "Midnite Madness Sale-abrations" for the rest of my life, a friend used to console me that cream always rises to the top. I used to think, so do people who throw themselves into the sea.
I tell you all this because it's worth recognizing that there is no such thing as an overnight success. You will do well to cultivate the resources in yourself that bring you happiness outside of success or failure. The truth is, most of us discover where we are headed when we arrive. At that time, we turn around and say, yes, this is obviously where I was going all along. It's a good idea to try to enjoy the scenery on the detours, because you'll probably take a few.
I still haven't drawn the strip as long as it took me to get the job. To endure five years of rejection to get a job requires either a faith in oneself that borders on delusion, or a love of the work. I loved the work.
Drawing comic strips for five years without pay drove home the point that the fun of cartooning wasn't in the money; it was in the work. This turned out to be an important realization when my break finally came.
Like many people, I found that what I was chasing wasn't what I caught. I've wanted to be a cartoonist since I was old enough to read cartoons, and I never really thought about cartoons as being a business. It never occurred to me that a comic strip I created would be at the mercy of a bloodsucking corporate parasite called a syndicate, and that I'd be faced with countless ethical decisions masquerading as simple business decisions.
To make a business decision, you don't need much philosophy; all you need is greed, and maybe a little knowledge of how the game works.
As my comic strip became popular, the pressure to capitalize on that popularity increased to the point where I was spending almost as much time screaming at executives as drawing. Cartoon merchandising is a $12 billion dollar a year industry and the syndicate understandably wanted a piece of that pie. But the more I though about what they wanted to do with my creation, the more inconsistent it seemed with the reasons I draw cartoons.
Selling out is usually more a matter of buying in. Sell out, and you're really buying into someone else's system of values, rules and rewards.
The so-called "opportunity" I faced would have meant giving up my individual voice for that of a money-grubbing corporation. It would have meant my purpose in writing was to sell things, not say things. My pride in craft would be sacrificed to the efficiency of mass production and the work of assistants. Authorship would become committee decision. Creativity would become work for pay. Art would turn into commerce. In short, money was supposed to supply all the meaning I'd need.
What the syndicate wanted to do, in other words, was turn my comic strip into everything calculated, empty and robotic that I hated about my old job. They would turn my characters into television hucksters and T-shirt sloganeers and deprive me of characters that actually expressed my own thoughts.
On those terms, I found the offer easy to refuse. Unfortunately, the syndicate also found my refusal easy to refuse, and we've been fighting for over three years now. Such is American business, I guess, where the desire for obscene profit mutes any discussion of conscience.
You will find your own ethical dilemmas in all parts of your lives, both personal and professional. We all have different desires and needs, but if we don't discover what we want from ourselves and what we stand for, we will live passively and unfulfilled. Sooner or later, we are all asked to compromise ourselves and the things we care about. We define ourselves by our actions. With each decision, we tell ourselves and the world who we are. Think about what you want out of this life, and recognize that there are many kinds of success.
Many of you will be going on to law school, business school, medical school, or other graduate work, and you can expect the kind of starting salary that, with luck, will allow you to pay off your own tuition debts within your own lifetime.
But having an enviable career is one thing, and being a happy person is another.
Creating a life that reflects your values and satisfies your soul is a rare achievement. In a culture that relentlessly promotes avarice and excess as the good life, a person happy doing his own work is usually considered an eccentric, if not a subversive. Ambition is only understood if it's to rise to the top of some imaginary ladder of success. Someone who takes an undemanding job because it affords him the time to pursue other interests and activities is considered a flake. A person who abandons a career in order to stay home and raise children is considered not to be living up to his potential—as if a job title and salary are the sole measure of human worth.
You'll be told in a hundred ways, some subtle and some not, to keep climbing, and never be satisfied with where you are, who you are, and what you're doing. There are a million ways to sell yourself out, and I guarantee you'll hear about them.
To invent your own life's meaning is not easy, but it's still allowed, and I think you'll be happier for the trouble.
Reading those turgid philosophers here in these remote stone buildings may not get you a job, but if those books have forced you to ask yourself questions about what makes life truthful, purposeful, meaningful, and redeeming, you have the Swiss Army Knife of mental tools, and it's going to come in handy all the time.
I think you'll find that Kenyon touched a deep part of you. These have been formative years. Chances are, at least of your roommates has taught you everything ugly about human nature you ever wanted to know.
With luck, you've also had a class that transmitted a spark of insight or interest you'd never had before. Cultivate that interest, and you may find a deeper meaning in your life that feeds your soul and spirit. Your preparation for the real world is not in the answers you've learned, but in the questions you've learned how to ask yourself.
Graduating from Kenyon, I suspect you'll find yourselves quite well prepared indeed.
I wish you all fulfillment and happiness. Congratulations on your achievement.
Kenyon College Commencement
May 20, 1990
Because I guess I'm feeling commencementy. Here's Bono's commencement address from last year at Penn.
Because We Can, We Must
My name is Bono and I am a rock star. Don't get me too excited because I use four letter words when I get excited. I'd just like to say to the parents, your children are safe, your country is safe, the FCC has taught me a lesson and the only four letter word I'm going to use today is P-E-N-N. Come to think of it 'Bono' is a four-letter word. The whole business of obscenity--I don't think there's anything certainly more unseemly than the sight of a rock star in academic robes. It's a bit like when people put their King Charles spaniels in little tartan sweats and hats. It's not natural, and it doesn't make the dog any smarter.
It's true we were here before with U2 and I would like to thank them for giving me a great life, as well as you. I've got a great rock and roll band that normally stand in the back when I'm talking to thousands of people in a football stadium and they were here with me, I think it was seven years ago. Actually then I was with some other sartorial problems. I was wearing a mirror-ball suit at the time and I emerged from a forty-foot high revolving lemon. It was sort of a cross between a space ship, a disco and a plastic fruit.
I guess it was at that point when your Trustees decided to give me their highest honor. Doctor of Laws, wow! I know it's an honor, and it really is an honor, but are you sure? Doctor of Law, all I can think about is the laws I've broken. Laws of nature, laws of physics, laws of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, and on a memorable night in the late seventies, I think it was Newton's law of motion...sickness. No, it's true, my resume reads like a rap sheet. I have to come clean; I've broken a lot of laws, and the ones I haven't I've certainly thought about. I have sinned in thought, word, and deed. God forgive me. Actually God forgave me, but why would you? I'm here getting a doctorate, getting respectable, getting in the good graces of the powers that be, I hope it sends you students a powerful message: Crime does pay.
So I humbly accept the honor, keeping in mind the words of a British playwright, John Mortimerit was, "No brilliance is needed in the law. Nothing but common sense and relatively clean fingernails." Well at best I've got one of the two of those.
But no, I never went to college, I've slept in some strange places, but the library wasn't one of them. I studied rock and roll and I grew up in Dublin in the '70s, music was an alarm bell for me, it woke me up to the world. I was 17 when I first saw The Clash, and it just sounded like revolution. The Clash were like, "This is a public service announcement--with guitars." I was the kid in the crowd who took it at face value. Later I learned that a lot of the rebels were in it for the T-shirt. They'd wear the boots but they wouldn't march. They'd smash bottles on their heads but they wouldn't go to something more painful like a town hall meeting. By the way I felt like that myself until recently.
I didn't expect change to come so slow, so agonizingly slow. I didn't realize that the biggest obstacle to political and social progress wasn't the Free Masons, or the Establishment, or the boot heal of whatever you consider 'the Man' to be, it was something much more subtle. As the Provost just referred to, a combination of our own indifference and the Kafkaesque labyrinth of 'no's you encounter as people vanish down the corridors of bureaucracy.
So for better or worse that was my education. I came away with a clear sense of the difference music could make in my own life, in other peoples' lives if I did my job right. Which if you're a singer in a rock band means avoiding the obvious pitfalls like, say, a mullet hairdo. If anyone here doesn't know what a mullet is by the way your education's certainly not complete, I'd ask for your money back. For a lead singer like me, a mullet is, I would suggest, arguably more dangerous than a drug problem. Yes, I had a mullet in the '80s.
Now this is the point where the members of the faculty start smiling uncomfortably and thinking maybe they should have offered me the honorary bachelors degree instead of the full blown doctorate, (he should have been the bachelor's one, he's talking about mullets and stuff). If they're asking what on earth I'm doing here, I think it's a fair question. What am I doing here? More to the point: what are you doing here? Because if you don't mind me saying so this is a strange ending to an Ivy League education. Four years in these historic halls thinking great thoughts and now you're sitting in a stadium better suited for football listening to an Irish rock star give a speech that is so far mostly about himself. What are you doing here?
Actually I saw something in the paper last week about Kermit the Frog giving a commencement address somewhere. One of the students was complaining, "I worked my ass off for four years to be addressed by a sock?" You have worked your ass off for this. For four years you've been buying, trading, and selling, everything you've got in this marketplace of ideas. The intellectual hustle. Your pockets are full, even if your parents' are empty, and now you've got to figure out what to spend it on.
Well, the going rate for change is not cheap. Big ideas are expensive. The University has had its share of big ideas. Benjamin Franklin had a few, so did Justice Brennen and in my opinion so does Judith Rodin. What a gorgeous girl. They all knew that if you're gonna be good at your word if you're gonna live up to your ideals and your education, its' gonna cost you.
So my question I suppose is: What's the big idea? What's your big idea? What are you willing to spend your moral capital, your intellectual capital, your cash, your sweat equity in pursuing outside of the walls of the University of Pennsylvania?
There's a truly great Irish poet his name is Brendan Kennelly, and he has this epic poem called the Book of Judas, and there's a line in that poem that never leaves my mind, it says: "Ifyou want to serve the age, betray it." What does that mean to betray the age?
Well to me betraying the age means exposing its conceits, it's foibles; it's phony moral certitudes. It means telling the secrets of the age and facing harsher truths.
Every age has its massive moral blind spots. We might not see them, but our children will. Slavery was one of them and the people who best served that age were the ones who called it as it was--which was ungodly and inhuman. Ben Franklin called it what it was when he became president of the Pennsylvania Abolition Society.
Segregation. There was another one. America sees this now but it took a civil rights movement to betray their age. And 50 years ago the U.S. Supreme Court betrayed the age May 17, 1954, Brown vs. Board of Education came down and put the lie to the idea that separate can ever really be equal. Amen to that.
Fast forward 50 years. May 17, 2004. What are the ideas right now worth betraying? What are the lies we tell ourselves now? What are the blind spots of our age? What's worth spending your post-Penn lives trying to do or undo? It might be something simple.
It might be something as simple as our deep down refusal to believe that every human life has equal worth. Could that be it? Could that be it? Each of you will probably have your own answer, but for me that is it. And for me the proving ground has been Africa.
Africa makes a mockery of what we say, at least what I say, about equality and questions our pieties and our commitments because there's no way to look at what's happening over there and it's effect on all of us and conclude that we actually consider Africans as our equals before God. There is no chance.
An amazing event happened here in Philadelphia in 1985--Live Aid--that whole We Are The World phenomenon the concert that happened here. Well after that concert I went to Ethiopia with my wife, Ali. We were there for a month and an extraordinary thing happened to me. We used to wake up in the morning and the mist would be lifting we'd see thousands and thousands of people who'd been walking all night to our food station were we were working. One man--I was standing outside talking to the translator--had this beautiful boy and he was saying to me in Amharic, I think it was, I said I can't understand what he's saying, and this nurse who spoke English and Amharic said to me, he's saying will you take his son. He's saying please take his son, he would be a great son for you. I was looking puzzled and he said, "You must take my son because if you don't take my son, my son will surely die. If you take him he will go back to Ireland and get an education." Probably like the ones we're talking about today. I had to say no, that was the rules there and I walked away from that man, I've never really walked away from it. But I think about that boy and that man and that's when I started this journey that's brought me here into this stadium.
Because at that moment I became the worst scourge on God's green earth, a rock star with a cause. Christ! Except it isn't the cause. Seven thousand Africans dying every day of preventable, treatable disease like AIDS? That's not a cause, that's an emergency. And when the disease gets out of control because most of the population live on less than one dollar a day? That's not a cause, that's an emergency. And when resentment builds because of unfair trade rules and the burden of unfair debt, that are debts by the way that keep Africans poor? That's not a cause, that's an emergency. So--We Are The World, Live Aid, start me off it was an extraordinary thing and really that event was about charity. But 20 years on I'm not that interested in charity. I'm interested in justice. There's a difference. Africa needs justice as much as it needs charity.
Equality for Africa is a big idea. It's a big expensive idea. I see the Wharton graduates now getting out the math on the back of their programs, numbers are intimidating aren't they, but not to you! But the scale of the suffering and the scope of the commitment they often numb us into a kind of indifference. Wishing for the end to AIDS and extreme poverty in Africa is like wishing that gravity didn't make things so damn heavy. We can wish it, but what the hell can we do about it?
Well, more than we think. We can't fix every problem--corruption, natural calamities are part of the picture here--but the ones we can we must. The debt burden, as I say, unfair trade, as I say, sharing our knowledge, the intellectual copyright for lifesaving drugs in a crisis, we can do that. And because we can, we must. Because we can, we must. Amen.
This is the straight truth, the righteous truth. It's not a theory, it's a fact. The fact is that this generation--yours, my generation--that can look at the poverty, we're the first generation that can look at poverty and disease, look across the ocean to Africa and say with a straight face, we can be the first to end this sort of stupid extreme poverty, where in the world of plenty, a child can die for lack of food in it's belly. We can be the first generation. It might take a while, but we can be that generation that says no to stupid poverty. It's a fact, the economists confirm it. It's an expensive fact but, cheaper than say the Marshall Plan that saved Europe from communism and fascism. And cheaper I would argue than fighting wave after wave of terrorism's new recruits. That's the economics department over there, very good.
It's a fact. So why aren't we pumping our fists in the air and cheering about it? Well probably because when we admit we can do something about it, we've got to do something about it. For the first time in history we have the know how, we have the cash, we have the lifesaving drugs, but do we have the will?
Yesterday, here in Philadelphia, at the Liberty Bell, I met a lot of Americans who do have the will. From arch-religious conservatives to young secular radicals, I just felt an incredible overpowering sense that this was possible. We're calling it the ONE campaign, to put an end to AIDS and extreme poverty in Africa. They believe we can do it, so do I.
I really, really do believe it. I just want you to know, I think this is obvious, but I'm not really going in for the warm fuzzy feeling thing, I'm not a hippy, I do not have flowers in my hair, I come from punk rock, The Clash wore army boots not Birkenstocks. I believe America can do this! I believe that this generation can do this. In fact I want to hear an argument about why we shouldn't.
I know idealism is not playing on the radio right now, you don't see it on TV, irony is on heavy rotation, the knowingness, the smirk, the tired joke. I've tried them all out but I'll tell you this,outside this campus--and even inside it--idealism is under siege beset by materialism, narcissism and all the other isms of indifference. Baggism, Shaggism. Raggism. Notism, graduationism, chismism, I don't know. Where's John Lennon when you need him.
But I don't want to make you cop to idealism, not in front of your parents, or your younger siblings. But what about Americanism? Will you cop to that at least? It's not everywhere in fashion these days, Americanism. Not very big in Europe, truth be told. No less on Ivy League college campuses. But it all depends on your definition of Americanism.
Me, I'm in love with this country called America. I'm a huge fan of America, I'm one of those annoying fans, you know the ones that read the CD notes and follow you into bathrooms and ask you all kinds of annoying questions about why you didn't live up to thatSˇ.
I'm that kind of fan. I read the Declaration of Independence and I've read the Constitution of the United States, and they are some liner notes, dude. As I said yesterday I made my pilgrimage to Independence Hall, and I love America because America is not just a country, it's an idea. You see my country, Ireland, is a great country, but it's not an idea. America is an idea, but it's an idea that brings with it some baggage, like power brings responsibility. It's an idea that brings with it equality, but equality even though it's the highest calling, is the hardest to reach. The idea that anything is possible, that's one of the reasons why I'm a fan of America. It's like hey, look there's the moon up there, lets take a walk on it, bring back a piece of it. That's the kind of America that I'm a fan of.
In 1771 your founder Mr. Franklin spent three months in Ireland and Scotland to look at the relationship they had with England to see if this could be a model for America, whether America should follow their example and remain a part of the British Empire.
Franklin was deeply, deeply distressed by what he saw. In Ireland he saw how England had put a stranglehold on Irish trade, how absentee English landlords exploited Irish tenant farmers and how those farmers in Franklin's words "lived in retched hovels of mud and straw, were clothed in rags and subsisted chiefly on potatoes." Not exactly the American dream...
So instead of Ireland becoming a model for America, America became a model for Ireland in our own struggle for independence.
When the potatoes ran out, millions of Irish men, women and children packed their bags got on a boat and showed up right here. And we're still doing it. We're not even starving anymore, loads of potatoes. In fact if there's any Irish out there, I've breaking news from Dublin, the potato famine is over you can come home now. But why are we still showing up? Because we love the idea of America.
We love the crackle and the hustle, we love the spirit that gives the finger to fate, the spirit that says there's no hurdle we can't clear and no problem we can't fix. (sound of helicopter) Oh, here comes the Brits, only joking. No problem we can't fix. So what's the problem that we want to apply all this energy and intellect to?
Every era has its defining struggle and the fate of Africa is one of ours. It's not the only one, but in the history books it's easily going to make the top five, what we did or what we did not do. It's a proving ground, as I said earlier, for the idea of equality. But whether it's this or something else, I hope you'll pick a fight and get in it. Get your boots dirty, get rough, steel your courage with a final drink there at Smoky Joe's, one last primal scream and go.
Sing the melody line you hear in your own head, remember, you don't owe anybody any explanations, you don't owe your parents any explanations, you don't owe your professors any explanations. You know I used to think the future was solid or fixed, something you inherited like an old building that you move into when the previous generation moves out or gets chased out.
But it's not. The future is not fixed, it's fluid. You can build your own building, or hut or condo, whatever; this is the metaphor part of the speech by the way.
But my point is that the world is more malleable than you think and it's waiting for you to hammer it into shape. Now if I were a folksinger I'd immediately launch into "If I Had a Hammer" right now get you all singing and swaying. But as I say I come from punk rock, so I'd rather have the bloody hammer right here in my fist.
That's what this degree of yours is, a blunt instrument. So go forth and build something with it. Remember what John Adams said about Ben Franklin, "He does not hesitate at our boldest Measures but rather seems to think us too irresolute."
Well this is the time for bold measures. This is the country, and you are the generation. Thank you.
This was Steve Jobs's commencement speech at Stanford this year.
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
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 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 naïvely 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 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 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 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
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
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 secondary.
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.