Today we will look at a very famous speech called “How to Live Before You Die,” delivered by Steve Jobs as a Stanford University commencement speech in 2005. Steve Jobs is one of the most important figures in culture and business over the past half century, and this speech, given after a cancer scare but before his actual death, is a poignant reminder of his impact on our world.


Commencement n. – To commence is to begin, so a commencement is the start of something

Drop out v./n. – To leave university prior to graduation; a person who has left university early

Adoption n. – The process of becoming the legal guardian of a child which is not biologically yours

Calligraphy n. – The art of handwriting

Biological adj. – Relating to biology; for example, “I’m adopted and have never met my biological parents.”

Diagnosis n. – A description of a problem, often used in medicine or computing.

Intuition n. – A feeling about something that is not based on evidence

Generation n. – All the people born about the same time, regarded collectively

Listening Practice

Watch the following video. It will last 15:04. Try to answer the following questions to test your comprehension.



  1. What happened when Steve Jobs was born?
  2. Why did he drop out of university?
  3. What does he mean when he says “you can’t connect the dots looking forward; you can only connect them looking backwards”?
  4. What happened when Steve Jobs turned 30?
  5. How did this become the best thing that happened to him?
  6. What does he mean by “don’t settle”?

True or False

  1. Steve Jobs studied at Stanford University.
  2. He studied calligraphy at university.
  3. The Mac was the first computer with beautiful typography.
  4. Jobs founded two new companies after being fired from Apple.
  5. He views death as a great motivator in life.
  6. The Whole Earth Catalog began in the mid-1970s.

Multiple Choice

  1. Where did Steve Jobs study?
    1. Harvard
    2. Stanford
    3. Reed
    4. Washington
  2. Why did Steve Jobs view dropping out as a positive experience?
    1. He had more free time for hobbies
    2. He could volunteer at the Hare Krishna center
    3. He could drop in on classes which interested him
    4. He could save money
  3. What inspired the beautiful fonts featured on the Mac?
    1. A course in calligraphy
    2. A life-long interest in design
    3. Ideas copied from Windows
    4. His innate perfectionism
  4. When was he diagnosed with cancer?
    1. Three months earlier
    2. One year earlier
    3. Six months earlier
    4. Five years earlier


Practice the following PART TWO task, and then look at the example before for additional ideas. You don’t have to speak about Steve Jobs, of course.

Describe a leader you admire.

You should say:

Who this person is

What you know about their life

Why you admire them

How they have influenced you


I’d like to talk about a person who is known throughout the whole world for his work – Steve Jobs. Steve Jobs was famous as the founder and CEO of one of the most important companies in recent history, Apple, which gave the world inventions like the Mac, the iPod, the iPhone, and the iPad. Jobs was adopted at birth and dropped out of university after six months. He didn’t know what he wanted in life, but he followed his intuition and always worked very hard. He is known for his uncompromising positions and wouldn’t accept weakness or failure from his employees. Consequently, he was a controversial figure. Yet it is undeniable that he has shaped the world in which we live with his ideas and his tireless work. He passed away in 2011 but his influence remains on the world, and also on me. As a business student I can learn a great deal from Jobs’ attitude in life – such as to not follow convention, but instead tirelessly pursue innovation.



  1. He was put up for adoption, but the family who had originally agreed to adopt him decided that they wanted a girl, so he was offered to another family instead. His biological mother wanted him to be raised by college graduates, but eventually agreed to relent if the adoptive parents promised he would go to college.
  2. After six months he realized he was wasting his parents’ money because university wasn’t helping him figure out what he wanted to do in life.
  3. We can’t predict the future but life makes sense when we look at history.
  4. He was fired from the company that he started.
  5. He was able to do other things in life that he cared about, like fall in love. He became more creative.
  6. “Don’t settle” means to always strive for the best and never agree to something that isn’t your best.

True or False

  1. False – he studied at Reed College
  2. False – after dropping out, he “dropped in” on calligraphy classes
  3. True
  4. True
  5. True
  6. False – it ended in the mid-1970s; it began in the late 1960s.

Multiple Choice

  1. c
  2. c
  3. a
  4. b



Teachers can view the lesson plan here, which contains additional activities and features a recommended structuring to suit upper-intermediate and advanced classes.