Steve Jobs and Reed College

Steve Jobs was a student at Reed College in the fall of 1972 and majored in English. After just one semester, he dropped out but continued living on campus with friends and auditing classes, including Shakespeare, modern dance, and calligraphy. Steve never graduated, making him Reed College’s most famous college dropout. 

Steve Jobs’s Time at Reed 

The late co-founder of Apple moved to Portland, Oregon at 17 years old, from Palo Alto, California. At Reed, he lived in room 32 in Westport, part of the Old Dorm Block. Steve Wozniak, a friend from high school, arrived early that semester to crash on Steve’s floor. The two shared a passion for technology and were often building and tinkering together. After some years of antics and experimentation they started Apple to launch the very first personal computer. 

Steve was doggedly committed to pursuing the ideas he found most interesting, and freshman year requirements didn’t always align with his priorities. Despite dropping out, Steve would later say that Reed had a profound impact on his life. He embraced the Reedie ethos and developed lasting relationships with students and professors. He worked on repairing equipment for the psychology department, immersed himself in books on Buddhism at the library, and enthusiasitcally audited calligraphy classes.

Vollum Award 

In 1991, Steve Jobs was given the Vollum Award for Distinguished Accomplishment in Science and Technology. In his thank you speech at convocation, he recounted his scrappy means of surviving as a broke student, collecting coke bottles and hitchhiking to the Hare Krishna temple for free meals. "Character is built not in good times, but in bad times," he said. "Not in a time of plenty, but in a time of adversity—and this school seems to nurture that spirit of adversity, and I think does build some character. So, I thank you for teaching me how to be hungry and how to keep that with me my whole life."

Photo by Fred Wilson, Reed Magazine, November 1991

Steve Jobs and Calligraphy

Studying under legendary Prof. Lloyd Reynolds [art 1929–1969], Steve Jobs took calligraphy at Reed and was captivated. In an article for Smithsonian Magazine, Henry Adams writes that to Reynolds, “the skill of writing letters was all-embracing and mystical, and it took thought. To do it properly required a total understanding of the art and culture that gave rise to particular modes of writing.”

Steve was inspired by this sweeping appreciation for the ancient artform, and it became a part of his own approach to design and aesthetics—an approach that became iconic through decades of sleek Apple products. 

In his 2005 commencement address at Stanford University, Steve said:

“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... I learned about serif and sans 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. None of this had even a hope of any practical application in my life. But 10 years later, when we were designing the first Macintosh computer, it all came back to me. And we designed it all into the Mac.”

More on Steve Jobs and Reed

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Staying Hungry

Read his 1991 Convocation speech.

The Owl and the Technocrat

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Calligraphy at Reed

Learn about the art that influenced Steve Jobs.

Computer Science at Reed

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History of Information Technology

Beyond Steve Jobs, Reedies revolutionize IT.