Advice From Rich People

steve jobs commencement

What sort of wisdom will you learn scrolling through this collection of great commencement speeches? START →

Here’s a sample:

Apple CEO Steve Jobs: “Stay Hungry. Stay Foolish.”

Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos: “Successful folks focus in on what they love and they wait for the world to come to them.”

World’s wealthiest author, J.K. Rowling:  “It is impossible to live without failing at something, unless you live so cautiously that you might as well not have lived at all – in which case, you fail by default.”

Microsoft founder Bill Gates: “Humanity’s greatest advances are not in its discoveries – but in how those discoveries are applied to reduce inequity.”

Google cofounder Larry Page: “Families brought you here, and you brought them here. Please keep them close and remember: they are what really matters in life.”

Google CEO Eric Schmidt: “It’s possible to spend your life inside the computer. Life is the people around you.”

Viacom chairman Sumner Redstone: “It’s not about the money – it’s about winning.”

Google “business founder” Omid Kordestani: “Think and act like an immigrant.”


Words Of Wisdom: Steve Jobs

Title: CEO of Apple Inc.

Commencement Address: Stanford University (2005)

Hightlight: 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 tumour 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 tumour. 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 catalogue, 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 catalogue, 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.


Watch video of the speech below.

Words Of Wisdom: Jeff Bezos

Title: CEO of Amazon

Commencement Address: Carnegie Mellon (2008)

Hightlight: 'Successful folks focus in on what they love and they wait for the world to come to them. The alternative, which is chasing the day's hot trend is a difficult road. At the height of the Internet gold rush in 1999, I watched many people who had no real interest in computers, no real interest in technology, and no real interest in business sit down and start panning for Internet gold. Very difficult. For one thing, it's dangerous to jump into an arena where you find yourself competing against those who have more passion than you. Don't try that at home. The good news is, if we listen to ourselves, we already know what our passions are. Our hearts are a reliable guide on this one.'


Watch video of the speech here:

Words Of Wisdom: J.K. Rowling

Title: The world's wealthiest author

Commencement Address: Harvard (2008)

Hightlight: 'You might never fail on the scale I did, but some failure in life is inevitable. It is impossible to live without failing at something, unless you live so cautiously that you might as well not have lived at all -- in which case, you fail by default.'


Watch it below

J.K. Rowling Speaks at Harvard Commencement from Harvard Magazine on Vimeo.

Words Of Wisdom: Bill Gates

Title: Founder and Chairman of Microsoft

Commencement Address: Harvard (2007)

Hightlight: 'Humanity's greatest advances are not in its discoveries -- but in how those discoveries are applied to reduce inequity.'


Watch video of the speech below.

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Words Of Wisdom: Larry Page

Title: Founder of Google

Commencement Address: University of Michigan (2009)

Hightlight: 'Many of us are fortunate enough to be here with family. Some of us have dear friends and family to go home to. And who knows, perhaps some of you, like Lucy and I, are dreaming about future families of your own. Just like me, your families brought you here, and you brought them here. Please keep them close and remember: they are what really matters in life.'


Watch video of the speech below.

Words Of Wisdom: Eric Schmidt

Title: CEO of Google

Commencement Address: University of Pennsylvania (2009)

Hightlight: 'I had never been to Istanbul Turkey (until recently). Here I am in the cab. I get my computer. My 3-gig GSM card… I'm going by the Ottoman This and Ottoman That (and getting info about each site by computer). And I thought, What is wrong with you? It was so addictive I kept doing it. (Puts his hands on his head) Everyone has a moment. In my case it was the Ottoman Empire. It's beautiful. So turn your computer off when you're driving by.

Our goal is to have you be as attached (to your computer) as possible. (But) know where the off button is. It's possible to spend your life inside the computer. Life is the people around you.

These tools are enormously powerful. Use them. Then turn it off, and talk to them.'


Watch video of the speech below.

Words Of Wisdom: Sumner Redstone

Words Of Wisdom: Omid Kordestani

Title: Google's Senior VP for Global Sales

Commencement Address: San Jose State University (2007)

Hightlights: 'To keep my edge, I must think and act like an immigrant. There is a special optimism and drive that I have benefited from and continue to rely on that I want all of you to find. Immigrants are inherently dreamers and fighters.'

Watch video of the speech below.

Words Of Wisdom: Carly Fiorina

Title: CEO of Hewlett-Packard (1999 to 2005)

Commencement Address: California Institute of Technology (2004)

Hightlight: 'What will define greatness for your generation? I believe it is to use the knowledge that you have earned here to find ways, not only to connect to computers, but to connect people; not only to bridge gaps in science, but to bridge gaps between cultures; not only to use numbers and formulas to create, but to use words to lead, and in the process, to close that canyon between ignorance and understanding.'


Thank you, Ben, and good morning everyone. I'd like to join both your Chairman Ben Rosen and President Baltimore in welcoming all of you to the 110th commencement exercises of the California Institute of Technology, and what a beautiful day you have today to celebrate such an important moment in your lives.

About a month ago, the Gallup organisation asked Americans which public institutions they had the most confidence in. Leading the pack was the military, followed by law enforcement, organised religion, the banking system, the Presidency, the Supreme Court -- I'm going in descending order now -- the medical system, public schools, the criminal justice system, organised labour, Congress, newspapers, and TV news. And then finally, one spot from the bottom, with just 24 per cent expressing any confidence at all, was big business. I think it was at that moment that the trustees invited a CEO to be your commencement speaker.

The good news is that even though I come to you today from a Fortune 11 company, it is a company that has always had the good sense to place a high priority on hiring Caltech graduates. We have all, of course, experienced the remarkable force of nature that is Ben Rosen, who performed brilliantly as Chairman of Compaq before he became an equally brilliant Chairman of the Board of Trustees.

The founder of HP Labs, Barney Oliver -- who was inducted into the National Inventor's Hall of Fame just last month -- also earned his master's and doctorate here. And today, HP Labs, that great institution that's producing 11 patents a day, is known as one of the largest chapters of the Caltech Alumni Association in the world. It is one of the big reasons why out of the $4 billion we spend on R&D, we are now among the top five innovators in the world.

Of course on the HP campus, you can tell the Caltech grads right way. For some reason for one full day every spring, they are the ones duct-taped to the trees.

Now, while we at HP know Caltech grads well, I think the people who know you best and the people who are perhaps most responsible for your success, are seated behind you and standing around you today. My guess is that many of them this morning are thinking back fondly to the first time you nearly blew up the kitchen with your chemistry set, or did a complex maths equation in your head maybe in the second grade. And so before we go any further, let's hear it for your mums and your dads and your friends and your loved ones who are also very proud of you today.

Now, four or five or six years ago, when all of you first contemplated taking your near-perfect SAT scores to Caltech, you were confronted with an application that is unique in the collegiate world. If you recall, all of you were given a blank sheet of paper and asked to fill it in in whatever way best represented you. Some of you drew pictures, some of you wrote poems, and some of you made paper aeroplanes -- and I assume spent the next four years at JPL.

Today, you have come full circle. After these years at one of the world's finest institutions of higher learning, that page is blank once again. And once again it is up to you to fill it in, in whatever way you see fit. The only difference now is that when you draw on that page when you leave here will do much more than define you in the world. If the history of Caltech is any guide, it will help define the world itself.

Previous generations of Caltech graduates took that knowledge and used it to do remarkable things. Today the question is asked of you. What will define greatness for your generation? What will you do as individuals and as a class to fill that page? Three weeks ago I asked that very question of these graduates in an e-mail to the class of 2004, and I got some pretty interesting responses.

Representative of many of you who wrote about the environment, one student said that greatness will be defined by putting the problems of the earth above our own. This student even suggested that I read 'The Lorax,' by Dr. Seuss before writing my speech, and asked 'who will speak for the trees?' Another student suggested that with war raging and CO2 emissions out of control, the most compelling persons of our generation will be those who can teach us to consume less, and said that maybe greatness will be defined by those mice they put on reduced-calorie diets.

Another very articulate student summed up the feelings of many whose responses ranged from world peace to building bridges between cultures, by suggesting that there is greatness in every scientific discovery, but only when infused with human touch -- when the innovative, calculated and sometimes even miraculous wielding of science can be used as a tool for the improvement of the human condition.

But to me, the most memorable and ultimately the most disappointing response came from a student who wrote that hopefully, what we will define greatness, and I quote, 'will be the ability to realise that shallow corporate ambitions and our addition to what society terms growth and progress are actually incredibly narrow-minded and destructive phenomena; that we reach beyond the artificial constructs and concrete jungles with which we have encased ourselves and rediscover our relationship to and utter dependence on the rest of the planet; that we instill in our children the thoughts that humans are not actually automatons whose paths are laid out for them at birth; that we recognise that gated communities are actually more dangerous for our peace of mind than the criminals they aim to keep out;

Words Of Wisdom: Jeff Immelt

Title: CEO of GE

Commencement Address: University of Notre Dame in (2007)

Hightlight: 'Distinguish yourself through your determination. Commit yourself to build competency. Have a purpose to your life. You will define your own goals. Work hard and live your dreams.'


Watch video of the speech below.

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