Wearing jeans and sandals under his black robe, Jobs delivered a keynote address that spanned his adoption at birth to his insights into mortality after being diagnosed with pancreatic cancer about a year ago. In plainspoken terms, his address struck a balance between the obstacles he has encountered during his notably public life and the lessons he has gleaned—for example, from his high-profile ousting in 1985 from the computer company he helped start.

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Steve Jobs’ 2005 Stanford Commencement address

“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,” said Jobs, 50. “It freed me to enter one of the most creative periods in my life.”

The 2005 Commencement proceeded with its familiar mix of the goofy and the formal: Graduates attached plush animals to their caps and carried body-length flotation devices onto the field for the Wacky Walk. This traditional kickoff to the ceremony was once again a flurry of wild wigs, rock-star shades, feather boas and a few Speedo swim trunks.

Also seen were a procession of walking iPods, several balloon floats, spray-painted umbrellas and one group that unfurled a volleyball net and spontaneously started to play. The first ones on the field carried boxes of Krispy Kreme doughnuts, while behind them a dance troupe in tutus and ape masks pranced around the track.

But calm was restored once the graduates took their seats and the Rev. Scotty McLennan, dean for religious life, delivered the opening invocation. President John Hennessy then welcomed the estimated 23,000 people in the stadium and, after a presentation of faculty, staff and student awards by Provost John Etchemendy, returned to the podium to introduce the keynote speaker.

Hennessy said Jobs embodied the university’s spirit, its “willingness to be bold and strike out in new directions.” Hennessy also touched on Jobs’ reputation as an innovator, a visionary and an advocate for education who developed partnerships during Apple’s earliest days to get computers into schools and communities.

Jobs began by noting that he dropped out of college, and that Sunday’s ceremony was the closest he had ever gotten to a university graduation. He then launched into the first part of his address, which focused on having faith that the dots of one’s life will connect down the road, even if the journey so far has not followed a clear pattern.

Jobs said his biological mother was an unwed graduate student who wanted him to go to college, so she chose a lawyer and his wife to be the adoptive parents. But because they ultimately wanted a girl, he was adopted by a working-class couple—neither of whom had college degrees, Jobs said.

Jobs said they pledged to send him to college, and when the time came, he chose Reed College in Portland, Ore. Concerned that tuition was draining his parents’ life savings and dissatisfied by his required courses, Jobs said he dropped out and began taking courses that interested him, including a calligraphy course that, a decade later, inspired him to design different fonts for the first Macintosh.

“Of course, it was impossible to connect the dots looking forward,” Jobs said. “You can only connect them looking backward, so you have to trust that the dots will somehow connect in your future.”

Jobs also talked about love and loss, and how he discovered what he wanted to do in life at an early age. He was 20 years old when he and Steve Wozniak founded Apple Computer, which in 10 years grew into a $2 billion company with 4,000 employees. After his departure from Apple, Jobs went on to found NeXT Software Inc., which was subsequently bought by Apple in 1997, returning him to the company that got him started.

“I’m pretty sure none of this would have happened if I hadn’t been fired from Apple,” Jobs said. “I’m convinced that the only thing that kept me going was that I loved what I did.”

The last part of his speech was about death. When he was diagnosed with cancer about a year ago, Jobs said doctors initially gave him up to six months to live. His cancer turned out to be a rare, curable form, and he quickly underwent surgery. He has since recovered, but the experience nonetheless taught him another lesson.

“Your time is limited, so don’t waste it living someone else’s life,” Jobs said. “Don’t let the noise of others’ opinions drown out your own inner voice.”

After a standing ovation, Hennessy brought the ceremony to a close with remarks that honored Jane Stanford?this year being the centennial of her death. The graduates of each school were then asked by their deans to stand for the conferral of degrees by Hennessy.

“Stanford is committed to keeping the spirit envisioned by Jane and Leland Stanford alive, and instilling it in the generations of students who pass this way,” Hennessy said. “And so, I hope that you leave this campus with a strong reservoir of the Stanford spirit, a reservoir that will grow over the years.”

On Sunday, 1,782 bachelor’s degrees were awarded, along with 2,026 master’s degrees and 904 doctoral degrees, according to Paddy McGowan, associate registrar and director of institutional research. Of the 1,732 undergraduates, 844 were female and 888 were male. Departmental honors were awarded to 388 undergraduates, 294 graduated with university distinction, 118 graduated with multiple majors, 477 completed minors, 70 graduated with dual bachelor’s degrees and 133 graduated with combined bachelor’s and master’s degrees.

Among international students, there were 95 undergraduates from 40 different countries and 948 graduate students from 70 different nations, according to McGowan.

“I just can’t believe that I got here,” said Farah Giga of the Southern California suburb of LaVerne, who graduated with a bachelor’s degree with honors in computer science. “This makes five all-nighters in a row totally worth it.”

Kateri Jones sat among family members who came from all over California and Colorado for her daughter, Dyani Jones, who graduated with a bachelor’s degree in human biology. One of the biggest achievements, her mother said, was just getting to this point.

“I just think it’s a remarkable accomplishment to get through this school,” she said. “Just the challenge of being here.”