This Column Isn't About Steve Jobs

Ok, this column is kind of about Steve Jobs. I wish it wasn't. I wish I was writing about the iPhone 4S or iOS 5 or iTunes Match or any number of possible topics. However, it's hard to get around the fact that, as The Onion reports, the last American who actually knew what  he was doing has passed away. But this article isn't just about Steve Jobs. It's also about us. This isn’t a Steve Jobs tribute column. There are thousands of good ones. I'm far from the best writer for the Job (pun intended) and far from the most knowledgeable person about his life or Apple's future. Instead, I'm trying to find a lesson in his life for all of us at Claremont McKenna College. There's an irony in the fact that this lower middle class, adopted kid who dropped out of Reed, a college that is arguably the antithesis of CMC, managed to build the most valuable company on the world. Jobs was a Buddhist, yet many people credit his personal aggression for enabling him to become the greatest CEO of all time. He never got an MBA and he never worked a day for someone else in his adult life. He never won a Kravis Prize for Entrepreneurship, yet his personal wealth is many, many billions of dollars.

As we feverishly beat down the path towards "success" in whatever our chosen field might be, Steve Jobs is looking down from above, probably wondering what gives us the impression that the path we are taking will lead us there. Here's the dilemma: would a Stanford MBA be nice to have? Sure, but Steve Jobs proved that you don't need one to make it in business. Obviously, none of us are Steve Jobs, so we might need that Stanford MBA or law degree or Fulbright or even that awesome summer internship. But at the same time, Jobs's legacy leaves you wondering, "Do I really need it?" and "Is it really worth it?"

But that's what Steve Jobs always did. He made us rethink and reevaluate our sense of what is normal. He made us question why we worried about buying a Discman and collecting CDs when we could store thousands of songs on an iPod. He made us consider aesthetics when buying a computer. He asked, "Why shouldn't a device we use every day be beautiful?" Even if you're a PC user and you think that that's overly romantic, you still have to make the argument that you bought a PC instead of a Mac because it offered the same power for less money-- because Steve Jobs realized that people would pay more for a computer that looked better. He didn’t invent the cell phone, but he made us realize it's full potential. Right now I'm writing this column on an iPad, a device which, all other things equal, is really, truly a joy to use.

You don't have to bow down at the idol of Steve Jobs to recognize what a tremendous talent the world has lost. But as we try to convert our CMC educations into lives of leadership in commerce and government, it is worth reflecting on the qualities that made him the leader he was. Steve Jobs was ruthlessly creative, brilliantly simple, and deceivingly smart. He didn't follow anyone else's path to success for a day in his life. Rather, he forged an entirely new path and brought many millions of people along for the ride. It's my sincere hope that the class of 2012 and the other 850 students I'm privileged to share my last year at CMC with do the same. CMC is an atypical liberal arts college and that's why we came here. So be an atypical graduate. Be a true leader. You probably won't be Steve Jobs, but don't let that stop you from trying.

"Your time is limited, so don't waste it living someone else's life." - Steve Jobs