I love commencement addresses. They close out the end of one part of life — a brief, intense period of learning as you turn the corner from young adulthood to discovering who you are in your own skin. They launch new beginnings full of hope.
You might wonder why an education news site would feature the commencement address of Steve Jobs, head of Apple and college dropout. Just think about that: Jobs is a college dropout and yet head of one of the most paradigm-changing companies in the world, with internationally-known products that touch every part of your life.
Right now we’re in a moment of economic flux. The response from many in the education field is to clamp down on learning and “accountability” out of fear. Fear that kids won’t learn, or be able to get a job, or have no skills. Numbers, data, test benchmarks are all held up as exalted signs of success or failure for both teachers and their students. But we’re missing the bigger point. Those numbers only tell you so much.
Of course you should always give your best effort to whatever is before you — a test, a class, a project. But life isn’t structured like tests, and the secret is that once you get out into the world, no one cares what you scored on the SATs. They want to know what you can DO.
Not everyone is as exceptional as Steve Jobs, and the path to his success is not to flunk all your classes or forget to apply yourself. But what he learned when he dropped out of college was how to teach himself. How to keep learning. How to synthesize everything you take in and juxtapose it in a new way. There isn’t a test for that, there are only tests you set for yourself.
So upon hearing that he’s stepped down unexpectedly from being CEO at Apple, I can only guess that perhaps he has health-related reasons for doing so. I’ve used and enjoyed so many products that Apple has created that I wanted to take moment to recognize what an impact he’s had on the world, and on the tools I use to bring you this website. I wish him well now that he’s no longer head of Apple. I’m curious to see what he does next.
Steve Jobs, thank you for following your instincts, even though at times in your youth it may have felt like you were wandering without a goal. It’s an enduring and important message for education reformers today: may there always be room for daring, hungry, foolish people who know how to learn what they need to know.
H/T May-lee Chai