As brave as their attempts may be, not all graduation speeches are created equal.
While some of these speeches will be instantly forgotten, others will make the headlines, but few hope to achieve the status of Steve Jobs’ speech at Stanford University in 2005.
The rare speech has outpaced this kind of event and found its way into the cultural fabric, and with nearly 40 million views on YouTube, it’s the most-watched graduation speech ever, and not without good reason.
An icon of business and culture, the co-founder of Apple was a public figure who remained as mysterious as the allure of the new products unveiled during the company’s launch events.
It can be said that Jobs’ unique view, which applies the trait of beautiful shape to inventions, was the gateway to Apple’s success, that is, making technology beautiful.
But like Apple products, which hid their inner workings behind glossy exteriors, the nuts and bolts that made Jobs such a success weren’t always easy to come by.
When Jobs spoke, people listened, and Jobs rarely shared his insides as transparently as he did with the graduates on that June 2005 California day.
‘The closest I’ve faced to death’
Jobs’ speech includes three stories from his life, the first in which he tells the tale of his abandonment of university, the second about the lessons he learned after he was fired by Apple in 1985, and finally his impressions of death.
And if the first two stories can be reduced to the need to trust your intuition and find what you love, the third is more profound. In 2005, Jobs’ first bout of cancer occurred after successful surgery.
“It was the closest I’ve come to death,” he said, “and I hope this will be the closest I’ve come to for a few more decades.”
The accident led Jobs to focus more on his death, and in his speech he shared his opinion of the virtues of death, going so far as to describe it as “quite possibly the best invention of life”.
“Remembering that you are going to die is the best way I know to avoid falling into the trap of thinking you have something to lose,” he told the graduates.
He added, “Your time is limited, so don’t waste it living someone else’s life… Have the courage to follow your heart and intuition. They already know what you really want to become in a way.”
The tech entrepreneur wasn’t a billionaire that day, just someone who felt the grip of death around him and got out of it for a second chance, talking to people about to embark on their first chance at life.
“It was like giving advice to the next generation of entrepreneurs,” says Carmine Gallo, a communications coach and writer.
Jobs did not get those additional contracts, as he died of cancer in 2011 at the age of 56.
“(His death) cemented that discourse in everyone’s minds,” Gallo added.
A proper tribute
And last month, Jobs’ widow, businesswoman Lauren Powell Jobs, gave her graduation speech to students at the University of Pennsylvania. She recalled the memory of her late husband and his speech in 2005, and also presented an addition to the attendees.
She said that one of the most beautiful dimensions of life is integrating the ones you loved and lost into your being, adding: “We see more, we understand more, we love more.”
“Steve used to say your work is going to fill a large part of your life, and the only way to truly feel satisfied is to do what you think is great work, and the only way to do great work is to love what you’re doing, and if you haven’t found it yet keep looking.”
“Let his (Jobs) words guide you as they did me, and the only way to do a great job is to love what you do,” she added. And while you’re doing it… I love who you’re doing it for, and I love who you are while you’re doing it.”