Archive for August, 2005

Stanford Report, June 15, 2005

David Kennedy: ‘Get out and make things happen’

This is the prepared text of remarks by Pulitzer Prize-winning historian David Kennedy, who spoke during the Class Day Luncheon on June 11, 2005.

I have three short stories, one historical reflection, one piece of advice and one translation.

The first story is about my very own favorite professor. And for that reason, it’s autobiographical. When I was about your age, and graduation was approaching, I decided it was time to venture off campus and have a look around. And I discovered something that I want to share with you before it’s too late: College was the easy part. Now it gets hard. I know college has seemed hard—all those papers and exams and labs and problem sets. But three things have made it easy: freedom, forgiveness and indulgence. All three of those are about to disappear from your lives.

Think about the freedom part. Consider what you’re going to miss: no more mid-day naps, no more spring breaks, no more three-week Christmas holidays, no more three-month summer vacations, no more skipping classes when you feel like it, no more choosing to study only what you want, no more avoiding all classes before 11 a.m.—and most painful of all, no more daytime TV.

As for the forgiveness: Well, outside the bosom of your family, you will never again be in such a forgiving environment as the one that has nurtured you here at Stanford. If you oversleep and miss class, hey, just get somebody else’s notes. Miss an exam question, just ace the next one. Paper no good? Ask to rewrite it. Course too tough? Take it credit/no clue. Flunk the course—or, worse, get a B-minus—just repeat it. Not prepared for the final exam? Get a doctor’s excuse (or arrange to have a grandparent die) and take it later.

But out there beyond the Palm Tree Curtain—well, suffice it to say it’s a jungle out there. Oversleep and lose your job. Turn in the wrong results and get sued. And just try to see a doctor.

And as for indulgence, let me tell you something: For four years my colleagues and I have been paid to read your papers, to answer your questions, to listen to your comments, recommend you for grants and jobs and internships.

No one will ever be obligated to do this again. If your writing is not clear, original and compelling, nobody will read it. If your comments are not trenchant and factual, nobody will listen. Out there in that jungle called the real world, nobody cares, nobody listens, nobody notices—unless you’re really good.

So, I figured all this out about 40 years ago, when I came back from that expedition off campus, and I’ve never left it again. I know I’m sharing this with you at the eleventh hour, but I apologize for not being in touch sooner.

Now for a bit of historical reflection. It’s customary on occasions like this for speakers to try to reach across the generational divide—to attempt to bridge the cultural chasm that leaves me unable to program a VCR and leads you to labor under the assumption that Paul Newman has always made salad dressing and that Michael Jackson has always been white. Commencement speakers by the thousands struggle every springtime to find some intergenerational connection—some element of comparison or contrast that links the historical moment in which their own graduation was set to the historical circumstances that will now face the graduates they face—usually by way of suggesting that back in the day the winters were colder, the snowdrifts higher, the gruel thinner, the hardships harder, and by comparison your lives are cushy and privileged and the road has been paved for you with the blood, sweat and tears of your eternally toiling forebears, and you’d darn well better—well, you get the picture.

But the fact is that my generation had the unexampled good fortune of being given much of our allotted time on this Earth during what the novelist Philip Roth has called "the greatest moment of collective inebriation in American history." He referred to that giddy, prosperous, self-confident post-World War II era when anything seemed possible, and lots of previously unimaginable things were indeed possible—like a college education for this grandson of a railroad section boss and a coal miner.

So I want to go back to a moment before both my time and yours—the World War II era—by way of suggesting something that’s new and more than a little troubling under history’s sun in this year of grace 2005.

From the time of the ancient Greeks through the American Revolutionary War and well down into the 20th century, the obligation to bear arms and the privileges of citizenship were intimately linked. From Aristotle’s Athens to Machiavelli’s Florence and Rembrandt’s Amsterdam and John Adams’ Boston and beyond, to be a full citizen was to stand ready to shoulder arms. It’s why the founders of this country were so concerned with militias and so worried about standing armies, about which Samuel Adams said, "A standing army, however necessary it may be at some times, is always dangerous to the liberties of the people." It’s why Franklin Roosevelt could boast about those GIs as "the greatest generation" who landed in Normandy on D-Day in 1944. And he said, "Our sons, pride of the nation … are lately drawn from the ways of peace … They yearn but for the end of battle, for their return to the haven of home." It’s why African Americans were so eager to serve in World Wars I and II, to secure their full claim to citizenship rights. For more than two millennia, the tradition of the citizen-soldier has served the indispensable purposes of sustaining civic engagement, protecting individual liberty—and guaranteeing political accountability.

But today, we have configured our military in a fashion that has many of the attributes of a mercenary army. None of you is liable to the obligation of service, and very, very few of you will ever taste battle. In another era, exemption from that obligation would have disqualified you from full citizenship. Maybe it will yet.

To be sure, we hire what I call the modern American mercenary army internally (unlike the hated Hessians that King George III employed in trying to extinguish the American Revolution). But it is nonetheless an all-volunteer force that signs up for some mighty dangerous work primarily for wages and benefits, a compensation package that may not always be commensurate with the dangers in store, as current recruiting problems testify. Now I am emphatically not impugning either the idealism or the patriotism of those who serve today. I happen to believe that the profession of arms is a noble calling. And I see no shame whatsoever in wage labor. But the fact remains that we have evolved a force that is extraordinarily lean, mean and lethal—and that has an unprecedented asymmetrical relation both to the world around us and to our own society. Now let me explain what it is about that compound asymmetry that I find worrisome.

First, the relation of the U.S. military to the rest of the world: By some reckonings, the United States’ military budget is greater than the military expenditures of all other nations combined. That money buys an arsenal of smart, precision weapons and the skilled operators to fire them that can lay down a coercive footprint in the world larger and more intimidating than anything history has ever seen. Now, we believe that our armed forces seek only just goals and at the end of the day will be understood as exerting a benign influence. But that perspective may not come so easily to those who find themselves on the receiving end of that supposedly beneficent violence. Here, surely, is why so many people, even our sister societies in Europe and North America, regard us with wariness and apprehension.

But the second element of what I’ve called the "compound asymmetry" of America’s military relationship to the world and to society, the second element of this compound asymmetry is even more troubling. It concerns the military’s place in the larger context of American society itself—and here the historical comparison with the World War II era comes into especially sharp and telling focus. From the inauguration of the draft in 1940 through the second world war’s end just 60 years ago in 1945, the United States put some 16 million men and several thousand women into uniform. What’s more, it mobilized the economic, social and psychological resources of the society down to the last factory and railcar and victory garden. World War II was a "total war." It compelled the mass participation of all citizens and the commitment of virtually all the society’s energies to secure the ultimate victory.

But thanks to something called the "revolution in military affairs," a product of the last decade and a half that has wedded the achievements of the newest electronic and information technologies to the destructive purposes of history’s second-oldest profession, we now have an active-duty military establishment that is proportionate to population about 4 percent—1/25th—of the size of the force that fought in World War II. What’s more, in the behemoth $11 trillion American economy, the fruits of which we all enjoy, the total military budget is now less than 4 percent of gross domestic product. In World War II it was more than 40 percent—a greater than tenfold difference in the relative incidence of the military’s claim on the society’s overall resources.

Now the implications of this seem to me to be pretty clear: History’s most deadly and destructive military force can now be put into the field by a society that scarcely breaks a sweat when it does so—that force and that situation puts at risk very few of its sons and daughters, and only those who go willingly into harm’s way. Our society neither asks nor requires any significant material deprivations on the part of the citizens in whose name that force is ultimately being deployed.

I believe this is not a healthy situation. It is, among other things, a standing invitation to the kind of military adventurism that the Founders correctly feared was among the greatest danger of standing armies—a danger that in their day was made manifest in the career of Napoleon Bonaparte. Thomas Jefferson said of Bonaparte that he "transferred the destinies of the republic from the civil to the military arm. Some will use this as a lesson against the practicability of republican government." Said Jefferson, "I read it as a lesson against the danger of standing armies."

I recognize that some, perhaps many, of you may find it offensive to call today’s armed forces a "mercenary army," and I repeat that I am in no way impugning the motives or the loyalties of those who are currently serving. But they are surely not the members of the citizen-army that we fielded two generations ago—drawn from all ranks of society, without respect to background or privilege or education, and an army mobilized on such a scale that civilian society’s deep and durable consent to the shaping and the use of that force was absolutely necessary. Leaving questions of equity aside, I for one cannot believe that it is healthy for democracy to let such an important function—the application of military force—to grow so far removed from popular participation and accountability. It makes some supremely important things too easy—like dealing out death and destruction to others and seeking military solutions on the assumption they will be swifter and more cheaply bought than those that could be accomplished by the slower and more vexatious business of diplomacy. And the life of a robust democratic society should be, in some measure at least, a strenuous life, one that makes demands on its citizens, especially when they are asked to engage with issues of life and death.

So let me turn to my second story, one that brings us back a little closer to home. It’s a story about two people from Stanford’s founding era. One of the great figures who taught on Stanford’s faculty in the early days was William James, the distinguished Harvard psychologist and philosopher and the brother of the greatest of all American novelists, Henry James. Not far from this very spot, he once gave a talk called "Stanford’s Ideal Destiny." In it he conjured a vision of Stanford 100 years in the future—just about now. He said: "Can we not frame a vision of what Stanford may be a century hence, with all the honors of the intervening years rolled up in its traditions? Not vast, but intense; devoted to truth; radiating influence, setting standards; shedding abroad the fruits of learning; mediating between America and Asia."

Now that spirit—so obviously ambitious, world-beating, almost immodest in its energy and reach—still pulses robustly on this campus today. I’m sure you have been touched by it; indeed, have contributed to it. It’s among the things that make Stanford great and distinctive. It’s probably among the reasons why you came here.

But another spirit abides here as well—and it, too, comes down to us from the earliest days of the university, and I hope it’s one that we’ve managed to pass on to you, along with all the skills we’ve presumably imparted to equip you to be world-beatingly victorious out there in the fabled rat race that awaits you.

When David Starr Jordan, Stanford’s first president, arrived in California, he took himself around the state to recruit students for the brand new university. In the standard little talk he gave, he did not dwell especially on the newness of Stanford, or its ambition, or its energy, or how it would equip those young Californians to make their way in the hugger-mugger Darwinian struggle of the frontier West. He struck another kind of note altogether—a note that sang of the values of serenity and contemplation. He spoke to those young people more than 100 years ago not so much about the necessity of making a living as about the importance of making a life. He talked about the value of the humanities—about what used to be called a liberal arts education. He put it this way:

"To turn from the petty troubles of the day to the thoughts of the masters is to go from the noise of the street through the doors of a cathedral. If you learn to unlock those portals, no power on Earth can ever take from you the key. The whole of your life must be spent in your own company, and only the educated man is good company for himself."

Now it’s appropriate for us, I think, to remind ourselves on a day like this of both of these legacies from Stanford’s founding. The one as much as the other makes up the essence of this place, and together they compose the gift that we hope you will take away from here.

My third story is very brief, and it leads to my concluding piece of advice. In those early Stanford days, in the end of the 19th century, it was still common, especially out here in the West and even more especially in the regions where the railroad had not yet reached, for people to travel by stagecoach. And most stagecoach lines in those days offered three categories of ticket: first class, second class and third class. A first-class ticket gave the passenger a guarantee that no matter what happened en route, he or she would arrive at the destination in good shape. A second-class ticket guaranteed arrival, but also provided that in case of difficulty en route—a mudslide that might have closed the road or a broken axle on the wagon—the passenger could be asked to step out of the coach for a period of time and wait until the problem was overcome. A third-class ticket carried the stipulation that in case of difficulty the holder of such a ticket would be expected to get out, to go to work with pickax or shovel, put a shoulder to the wheel and help to get the show on the road again.

Stanford is a first-class institution, and the sheepskin you’ll be handed tomorrow is a first-class ticket to the rest of your life. My advice to you is don’t take it. I don’t mean don’t take your diploma—of course you should take it. You’ve earned it and your parents would be aghast if you didn’t take it. But don’t take the first- or even the second-class route through life. Go third class. Don’t be too comfortable. Don’t be a bystander. Get out and make things happen. Get dirty. Put your shoulder to the wheel. Make the world move. And don’t make the mistake of thinking that military service is something that can be safely left to the other passengers.

Finally, the promised translation. The document I want to translate for you is two lines of a poem by Gwendolyn Brooks. She said:

Exhaust the little moment. Soon it dies.

And be it gash or gold it will not come again in identical disguise.

Here’s the translation: Carpe diem.

Good luck, and Godspeed.




Stanford Report, June 14, 2005

‘You’ve got to find what you love,’ Jobs says

This is the text of the Commencement address by Steve Jobs, CEO of Apple Computer and of Pixar Animation Studios, delivered on June 12, 2005.

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 closest I’ve ever gotten to a college graduation. 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 6 months, but then stayed around as a drop-in for another 18 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 17 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 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 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 5¢ deposits to buy food with, and I would walk the 7 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 san 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, its likely that no personal computer would have them. If I had never dropped out, I would have never dropped in on this calligraphy class, and personal 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 ten 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. This approach has never let me down, and it has made all the difference in my life.

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 20. We worked hard, and in 10 years Apple had grown from just the two of us in a garage into a $2 billion company with over 4000 employees. We had just released our finest creation – the Macintosh – a year earlier, and I had just turned 30. 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. So at 30 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 had 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 of 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 worlds 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, I retuned to Apple, and the technology we developed at NeXT is at the heart of Apple’s current renaissance. And Laurene 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 hits 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 your 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. 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 until you find it. Don’t settle.

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 tool 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 doctor’s code for prepare to die. It means to try to tell your kids everything you thought you’d have the next 10 years to tell them in just a few months. It means to make sure everything is buttoned up so that it will be as easy as possible for your family. It means to say your goodbyes.

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 and 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 doctors 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 I’m fine now.

This was the closest I’ve been to facing death, and I hope its 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 is 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 is 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. And most important, have the courage to follow your 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 Catalog, which was one of the bibles of my generation. It was created by a fellow named Stewart Brand not far from here in Menlo Park, and he brought it to life with his poetic touch. This was in the late 1960’s, 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, 35 years before Google came along: it was idealistic, and overflowing with neat tools and great notions.

Stewart and his team put out several issues of The Whole Earth Catalog, and then when it had run its course, they put out a final issue. It was the mid-1970s, 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 it 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.



Rule No. 1: Life is not fair. Get used to it. The average teen-ager uses the phrase “It’s not fair” 8.6 times a day. You got it from your parents, who said it so often you decided they must be the most idealistic generation ever. When they started hearing it from their own kids, they realized Rule No. 1.

Rule No. 2: The real world won’t care as much about your self-esteem as much as your school does. It’ll expect you to accomplish something before you feel good about yourself. This may come as a shock. Usually, when inflated self-esteem meets reality, kids complain that it’s not fair. (See Rule No. 1)

Rule No. 3: Sorry, you won’t make $40,000 a year right out of high school. And you won’t be a vice president or have a car phone either. You may even have to wear a uniform that doesn’t have a Gap label.

Rule No. 4: If you think your teacher is tough, wait ’til you get a boss. He doesn’t have tenure, so he tends to be a bit edgier. When you screw up, he’s not going to ask you how you feel about it.

Rule No. 5: Flipping burgers is not beneath your dignity. Your grandparents had a different word for burger flipping. They called it opportunity. They weren’t embarrassed making minimum wage either. They would have been embarrassed to sit around talking about Kurt Cobain all weekend.

Rule No. 6: It’s not your parents’ fault. If you screw up, you are responsible. This is the flip side of “It’s my life,” and “You’re not the boss of me,” and other eloquent proclamations of your generation. When you turn 18, it’s on your dime. Don’t whine about it, or you’ll sound like a baby boomer.

Rule No. 7: Before you were born your parents weren’t as boring as they are now. They got that way paying your bills, cleaning up your room and listening to you tell them how idealistic you are. And by the way, before you save the rain forest from the blood-sucking parasites of your parents’ generation, try delousing the closet in your bedroom.

Rule No. 8: Your school may have done away with winners and losers. Life hasn’t. In some schools, they’ll give you as many times as you want to get the right answer. Failing grades have been abolished and class valedictorians scrapped, lest anyone’s feelings be hurt. Effort is as important as results. This, of course, bears not the slightest resemblance to anything in real life. (See Rule No. 1, Rule No. 2 and Rule No. 4.)

Rule No. 9: Life is not divided into semesters, and you don’t get summers off. Not even Easter break. They expect you to show up every day. For eight hours. And you don’t get a new life every 10 weeks. It just goes on and on. While we’re at it, very few jobs are interested in fostering your self-expression or helping you find yourself. Fewer still lead to self-realization. (See Rule No. 1 and Rule No. 2.)

Rule No. 10: Television is not real life. Your life is not a sitcom. Your problems will not all be solved in 30 minutes, minus time for commercials. In real life, people actually have to leave the coffee shop to go to jobs. Your friends will not be as perky or pliable as Jennifer Aniston.

Rule No. 11: Be nice to nerds. You may end up working for them. We all could.

If there are no stupid questions, then what sort of questions do stupid people ask? – Dogbert