Graduates of Yale University, I apologize if you have endured this type of prologue before, but I want you to do something for me. Please, take a ood look around you. Look at the classmate on your left. Look at the classmate on your right. Now, consider this: five years from now, 10 years from now, even 30 years from now, odds are the person on your left is going to be a loser. The person on your right, meanwhile, will also be a loser. And you, in the middle? What can you expect? Loser. Loserhood. Loser Cum Laude.
”In fact, as I look out before me today, I don’t see a thousand hopes for a bright tomorrow. I don’t see a thousand future leaders in a thousand industries. I see a thousand losers.
”You’re upset. That’s understandable. After all, how can I, Lawrence ‘Larry’ Ellison, college dropout, have the audacity to spout such heresy to the graduating class of one of the nation’s most prestigious institutions? I’ll tell you why. Because I, Lawrence “Larry” Ellison, second richest man on the planet, am a college dropout, and you are not.
”Because Bill Gates, richest man on the planet — for now, anyway — is a college dropout, and you are not.
”Because Paul Allen, the third richest man on the planet, dropped out of college, and you did not.
”And for good measure, because Michael Dell, No. 9 on the list and moving up fast, is a college dropout, and you, yet again, are not.
”Hmm . . . you’re very upset. That’s understandable. So let me stroke your egos for a moment by pointing out, quite sincerely, that your diplomas were not attained in vain. Most of you, I imagine, have spent four to five years here, and in many ways what you’ve learned and endured will serve you well in the years ahead. You’ve established good work habits. You’ve established a network of people that will help you down the road. And you’ve established what will be lifelong relationships with the word ‘therapy.’ All that of is good. For in truth, you will need that network. You will need those strong work habits. You will need that therapy.
”You will need them because you didn’t drop out, and so you will never be among the richest people in the world. Oh sure, you may, perhaps, work your way up to No. 10 or No. 11, like Steve Ballmer. But then, I don’t have to tell you who he really works for, do I? And for the record, he dropped out of grad school. Bit of a late bloomer.
”Finally, I realize that many of you, and hopefully by now most of you, are wondering, ‘Is there anything I can do? Is there any hope for me at all?’ Actually, no. It’s too late. You’ve absorbed too much, think you know too much. You’re not 19 anymore. You have a built-in cap, and I’m not referring to the mortar boards on your heads.
”Hmm… you’re really very upset. That’s understandable. So perhaps this would be a good time to bring up the silver lining. Not for you, Class of ’00. You are a write-off, so I’ll let you slink off to your pathetic $200,000-a-year jobs, where your checks will be signed by former classmates who dropped out two years ago.
”Instead, I want to give hope to any underclassmen here today. I say to you, and I can’t stress this enough: leave. Pack your things and your ideas and don’t come back. Drop out. Start up.
”For I can tell you that a cap and gown will keep you down just as surely as these security guards dragging me off this stage are keeping me down . . .”
(At this point The Oracle CEO was ushered off stage.)
you all are leaving your alma mater now. i have no gift to present you all except a piece of advice.
what i would like to advise is that “don’t give up your study.” most of the courses you have taken are partly for your certificate. you had no choice but to take them. from now on, you may study on your own. i would advise you to work hard at some special field when you are still young and vigorous. your youth will be gone that will never come back to you again. when you are old, and when your energy are getting poorer, you will not be able to as you wish to. even though you have to study in order to make a living, studies will never live up to you. making a living without studying, you will be shifted out in three or five years. at this time when you hope to make it up, you will say it is too late. perhaps you will say, “after graduation and going into the society, we will meet with an urgent problem, that is, to make a living. for this we have no time to study. even though we hope to study, we have no library nor labs, how can we study further?”
i would like to say that all those who wait to have a library will not study further even though they have one and all these who wait to have a lab will not do experiments even though they have one. when you have a firm resolution and determination to solve a problem, you will naturally economize on food and clothing.
as for time, i should say it’s not a problem. you may know that every day he could do only an hour work, not much more than that because darwin was ill for all his life. you must have read his achievements. every day you spend an hour in reading 10 useful pages, then you will read more than 3650 pages every year. in 30 years you will have read 110,000 pages.
my fellow students, reading 110,000 pages will make you a scholar. but it will take you an hour to read three kinds of small-sized newspapers and it will take you an hour and a half to play four rounds of mahjian pieces. reading small-sized newspapers or playing mahjian pieces, or working hard to be a scholar? it’s up to you all.
henrik ibsen said, “it is your greatest duty to make yourself out.”
studying is then as tool as casting. giving up studying will destroy yourself.
i have to say goodbye to you all. your alma mater will open her eyes to see what you will be in 10 years. goodbye!
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.
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