It Started in 1987

My freshman year in high school, I was permitted one elective. I chose journalism. After taking J1, in which you learned all the copyediting marks, acquired your own Associate Press style book and learned the difference between a nameplate and a masthead, you were eligible to be on the newspaper staff. I joined the staff sophomore year.

We published every three weeks. The first issue was a nightmare. Not only was I learning about reporting and deadlines, but we had this dreadful typesetting machine we had to use. I honestly remember nothing about it except that it was huge and lived in its own room. I think there were mathematical calculations involved to get the character spacing right. Mistakes were costly in terms of time, patience, and weird, fax-like ribbons of paper.

Part of the reason I don't remember the typesetter well is that whoever trained me let me know that I would not be using it for long. Something new was coming.

By the time our second issue came out, the journalism room was stocked with a fleet of Macintoshes, loaded up with PageMaker 1.0. I can't say it was a smooth transition, but it was blindingly obvious to everyone in that room what an improvement the Apples were over the typesetting machine.

That was 1987. I was 15. I haven't looked back since.

(I will also say that my comp sci husband still has his old NeXT computer in our basement. Despite my cajoling, it still remains, a relic of fine engineering from a bygone era, gathering dust.)

Amid all the tributes on Twitter and Facebook last night, there was a tiny thread of skepticism, questioning whether it's appropriate for people to mourn someone we didn't even know, whether a tycoon like Jobs really changed our lives.

Of course he did. Of course he did. This tribute is especially lovely.

My busy, crammed-full life is made more elegant through the use of tools he imagined and helped create. People will be studying his life and career for lessons about leadership and creativity for years to come. Here's my feeble contribution to that.

Yes, he was flawed. And yes, he was a billionaire, an economic "Have" at a time that people are thinking about what it means to be part of the 99%. But is that the standard? Only poor perfect people get to be mourned and missed? How cynical.

But enough from me. I've posted Job's commencement speech at Stanford before, but here is the part that's been going through my mind:

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 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 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.