An Analysis of Steve Jobs Commencement Speech at Stamford University

“How to live before you die” is a speech Steve Jobs delivered in 2005 at a Stamford University graduation ceremony. Jobs gave the speech to multicultural graduates, with the primary aim of inspiring them to live for their passion. He intended to help the graduates to learn from his life. I find Steve Jobs’ approach to the commencement speech that considers the themes of birth, death, and rebirth very inspirational and extraordinary.

Steve Jobs organizes his speech around three topics (stories): connecting the dots, lovw and loss, and death. The content of the first topic is about his school life, where he tells his audience that he dropped out of Reed College and calligraphy classes when he was barely six months into the programs (Jobs, 00:01:00 – 00:05:38). In the second part, Steve seeks to inform the graduates about life and loss. At this point, he encourages the graduates to find and pursue what they love and reinforces the significance of having faith and never giving up. His quote: “Sometimes life hits you in the head with a brick. Don’t lose faith,” is particularly poignant (Jobs, 00:05:38 – 00:09:05). In the concluding part of his speech, Steve Jobs movingly talks about death by narrating his cancer diagnosis (Jobs, 00:09:05 – 00:14:30).

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The presentation of this speech follows the traditional and straightforward structure that entails the opening remarks, presentation of the three topics, and conclusion. Moreover, Steve Jobs uses simple vocabularies and sentence structures. For instance, he introduces his third topic as “My third story is about death” (Jobs, 00:09:05). Moreover, he does not use a formal conversational style as one would expect but instead goes for a colloquial language style, “Woz and I started Apple” (00:05:50).

Steve Jobs manages to keep the attention from the start by selecting the right themes for his message. He also makes the speech inspirational and touching by relating to his experience. How he uses pauses and timing, and the focus of the message on fear, pride, and external expectations attracts the attention due to the applicability to the graduates.

By analyzing Steve Jobs speech, I have learned a lot about the significance of theme selection and the credibility of the presenter in attracting the attention of the audience. Steve Job’s use of rhetorical techniques is the main reason behind the effectiveness of his speech at Stamford University.


Works Cited

Jobs, Steve. “How to Live before You Die.” TED, Accessed 8 October 2020.