On the morning of June 16, 2005, Steve woke up with butterflies in his stomach. In fact, says Laurene, "I'd almost never seen him more nervous."
Steve was a natural performer who elevated business presentations to something close to high art. But what made him fidgety this day was the prospect of addressing the Stanford University graduating class of 2005. University president John Hennessy had broached the idea several months earlier, and after taking just a little time to think it over, Steve had said yes. He was asked to do so many commencement addresses that it became a running joke with Laurene and other friends who had college or graduate degrees: Steve said he'd accept one just to make an end run around them and get his PhD in a day, versus the years an years it had taken them. But in the end, saying no was simply a question of return on investment ---- conferences and public speaking seemed to offer a meager payoff compared to other things, like a dazzling MacWorld presentation, working on a great product, or being around his family. "If you look closely at how he spent his time," says Tim Cook, "you'll see that he hardly ever traveled and he did more of the conferences and get-together that so many CEOs attend. He wanted to be home for dinner."
Stanford was difference, even though speaking there would not turn Steve into Dr. Jobs ----- the school did not offer honorary degrees. For starters, he wouldn't have to travel or miss dinner, since it was possible for him to drive from his house to the university in just seven minutes. More important, the university was deeply tied into the Silicon Valley tech community in a way he admired. Its education was first-rate and the professors he'd met through the years, like Jim Collins, were top caliber. Despite being a dropout, he always enjoyed spending time around smart college students. "He was only going to do one commencement speech," says Laurene, "and if it was going to be anywhere it was going to be at Stanford."
Getting around to writing the speech prove to be something of a bother. Steve had talked to a few friends about what to say, and he had even asked the screenwriter Aaron Sorkin for some thoughts. But nothing came of all that, so finally he decided to write it himself. He wrote up a draft one night, and then started bouncing ideas off Laurene, Tim Cook, and a couple of others. "He really wanted to get it right," says "Laurene. "He wanted it to say something he really cared about." The language changed slightly, but its structure, which summed up his essential values in three vignettes, remained the same. In the days before the event he would recite it while walking around house, from the bedroom upstairs to the kitchen below, the kids watching their dad spring past them in the same kind of trance he'd sometimes enter in the days before MacWorld or Apple's Worldwide Developers Conference. Several times he read it to the whole family at dinner.
That Sunday morning, as the family got ready to leave for Stanford Stadium, Steve spent some time looking for his keys to the SUV, which he couldn't find anywhere.
I am honored to be with you today at your commencement from one of the finest universities in the world. I never graduated from college. Truth be told, this is the closet I've ever gotten to a college graduation. Today I want to tell you three stories from my life. That's it. No big ideal. Just three stories.
The first one 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 college 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 have an unexpected baby boy; do you want him?" They said: " Of course." My biological mother later found out 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 someday go to college.
And seventeen years later I did go to college. But I naively 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 how college was going to help me figure it out. And here I was spending all of the money my parents had saved their entire life. So I decided to drop out and trust that it would all work out okay. It was pretty scary at the time, but looking back it was one of the best decisions IZ 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 interesting.