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Steve Jobs' Use of Ethos, Pathos and Logos in Stanford Commencement Speech

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Steve Jobs, in his 2005 Stanford commencement speech, utilizes the concepts of ethos and relies heavily on pathos to communicate to his audience the importance of pursuing a career driven by passion. He makes a strong connection with his listeners by tapping into emotion while simultaneously weaving credibility into three stories that elicit such engagement. Jobs stays aware of this community and relates his techniques in such a way that resonates and maintains relevance with them. This speech was delivered fourteen years ago, not long after his diagnosis with pancreatic cancer. Taking this into consideration, it seems appropriate that he would be leading the commencement of Stanford’s 2005 graduation, with the intent to inspire students to seek fulfillment in their limited lifespan.

Jobs had a number of reasons to give this prepared speech in this place and this time. Primarily, a recent diagnosis of pancreatic cancer, one of the most fatal diseases. This speech was presumably in the wake of some kind of run-in-with-death revelation. Additionally, he had pulled Apple out of a sales rut the same year with numbers well above what they had been in recent years. The combination of a brush with death and business success focused Jobs on the importance of passion in work. He saw this as a driving force and one that he could share.

Furthermore, he chose to speak at Stanford, a university full of bright minded and motivated individuals who were likely, similar to most young people, unsure which of life’s countless paths to take. Jobs recognizes the potential of this group and intends to provide the only thing they are missing: direction.

One of the two primary rhetorical appeals Steve Jobs utilizes in his speech is pathos, which has the effect of engaging the audience with the piece through an emotional appeal. Jobs goes into detail about his past, discussing adoption, dropping out of college, cancer, and being removed from Apple. All make use of emotion and substantiate his message of pursuing one’s true passion and trusting that the rest will “fall into place”. Specifically, his story of a near-death experience with a disease such as pancreatic cancer elicits sympathy. This, in turn, keeps the target community invested in what he has to say while supporting his argument: because of life’s uncertainties, it is necessary to do what you love. Jobs knows his audience well. They are young and feel as though they have all the time in the world. Sharing his unexpected cancer discovery touches the students on an emotional level in a way that is relevant to them. It demonstrates how despite their youth, time is fleeting and people are not always able to enjoy life for as long as they may believe. His desire to make the speech derives from his passion for a future brightened by technological advancement and an expansive worldview. At the core of Jobs’ argument is the simple quote “Stay hungry. Stay foolish.” While this is a unique message to leave his audience with, he pulls it from another work, The Whole Earth Catalog, which he refers to as “one of the bibles of his generation”. The catalog is filled with essays, articles, and photographs whose culmination is a comprehensive, inspiring, and thought-provoking worldview that Jobs saw as the core of a vision of life that would bring fulfillment to many. The main theme of the catalog is the same that fuels Jobs, and pathos, or emotion, is the core appeal utilized to prop up the central idea of the speech.

While the effective use of pathos engages the audience through emotion, ethos establishes the credibility of a speaker with an audience in a given rhetorical situation. Jobs’ effectiveness with establishing and maintaining credibility throughout his speech tells the listeners what he thinks and proves he is someone they can trust. Jobs achieves this by acknowledging the irony inherent in a college dropout delivering a commencement address. He treats the audience with respect by conveying a story about dropping out of college without devaluing the college matriculation process. His emphasis on his personal idiosyncrasies makes the message relevant to a group of which he is not fully a part. He dropped in on classes, like calligraphy, and was rewarded ten years later when it was an integral part of the Macintosh. His fascination with specific classes drove him despite them having little immediate relevance in his life. The later application of this learning validates the educational experience as whole.

Additionally, Steve Jobs is not only founder of Apple, he is also founder of other ventures such as Pixar, the most successful animation company in the world. He is an entrepreneur and an innovator who simply did what he loved and has indisputably changed the world forever for having done so. In this way, his experiences substantiate him and his speech’s main argument, proving to the audience he is someone worth listening to.

Logos, the rhetorical appeal that focuses on logic and reasoning is used sparingly throughout the speech. There is an intentionally limited use of logos in this speech for a number of reasons. One is genre. Typically, a commencement address is meant to inspire and invigorate an audience. However, facts and reasoning are likely drown out its main goal and consequently it will not be well received. Secondly, it would drastically mitigate the essential emotional impact of the message. In this specific case, limited logos reinforces pathos in a way that is ultimately beneficial to the argument Jobs is making. After all, half of his call to action “stay foolish” would be undermined by reliance on reason and logic. While logos is hardly used, it is still present when Jobs explains his reason for dropping out of college: all his parents’ income was spent on an education and he “couldn’t see the value in it”. Jobs took advantage of an opportunity in the limited time he had by only attending classes that held his interest, which further supports his claim.

Steve Jobs’ speech relies primarily on the the concept of pathos with limited use of ethos and logos to effectively convey the message of making use of one’s limited time. He utilizes pathos through emotion evoking stories with the intent to provoke relevant reflection among his student audience tied to the concept of memento mori and reminds a group who seem to have infinite time of their true mortality. Their emotional response locks them into his argument.

While ethos has a smaller presence, it is used effectively to support Jobs’ theme and holds no less importance. It is the key reason the audience accepts Job’s speech and the core of what he intends to communicate. Logos, despite its limited appearance, is notable as its lack of use is deliberate. Extensive reasoning and logic would detract from the core idea: “Stay hungry. Stay foolish.” Ultimately, Jobs is aware of the community he is speaking to and utilizes rhetorical appeals in such a way that directly relates to them. In order for his speech to be worthwhile, it is necessary that the tools of rhetoric be strategically aimed at a particular target and tailored to achieve a particular goal. Steve Jobs undoubtedly accomplishes what he set out to.

Work Cited

  • Jobs, Steve. “2005 Stanford University Commencement Address.” Stanford News, June 12, 2005.

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Steve Jobs’ Use Of Ethos, Pathos And Logos In Stanford Commencement Speech. (2021, December 16). GradesFixer. Retrieved January 28, 2022, from
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