I am honored to be with you today at your commencement from one of
the finest universities in the world. I never graduated from college.
Truth be told, this is the closest I've ever gotten to a college
graduation. Today I want to tell you three stories from my life.
That's it. No big deal. Just three stories.
The first story is about connecting the dots.
I dropped out of Reed College after the first 6 months, but then
stayed around as a drop-in for another 18 months or so before I really
quit. So why did I drop out?
It started before I was born. My biological mother was a young, unwed
college graduate student, and she decided to put me up for adoption.
She felt very strongly that I should be adopted by college graduates,
so everything was all set for me to be adopted at birth by a lawyer
and his wife. Except that when I popped out they decided at the last
minute that they really wanted a girl. So my parents, who were on a
waiting list, got a call in the middle of the night asking: "We have
an unexpected baby boy; do you want him?" They said: "Of course." My
biological mother later found out that my mother had never graduated
from college and that my father had never graduated from high school.
She refused to sign the final adoption papers. She only relented a few
months later when my parents promised that I would someday go to
And 17 years later I did go to college. But I naively chose a college
that was almost as expensive as Stanford, and all of my working-class
parents' savings were being spent on my college tuition. After six
months, I couldn't see the value in it. I had no idea what I wanted to
do with my life and no idea how college was going to help me figure it
out. And here I was spending all of the money my parents had saved
their entire life. So I decided to drop out and trust that it would
all work out OK. It was pretty scary at the time, but looking back it
was one of the best decisions I ever made. The minute I dropped out I
could stop taking the required classes that didn't interest me, and
begin dropping in on the ones that looked interesting.
It wasn't all romantic. I didn't have a dorm room, so I slept on the
floor in friends' rooms, I returned coke bottles for the 5¢ deposits
to buy food with, and I would walk the 7 miles across town every
Sunday night to get one good meal a week at the Hare Krishna temple.
I loved it. And much of what I stumbled into by following my curiosity
and intuition turned out to be priceless later on. Let me give you one
Reed College at that time offered perhaps the best calligraphy
instruction in the country. Throughout the campus every poster, every
label on every drawer, was beautifully hand calligraphed. Because I
had dropped out and didn't have to take the normal classes, I decided
to take a calligraphy class to learn how to do this. I learned about
serif and san serif typefaces, about varying the amount of space
between different letter combinations, about what makes great
typography great. It was beautiful, historical, artistically subtle in
a way that science can't capture, and I found it fascinating.