Apple Computer's CEO Steve Jobs told Stanford University graduates Sunday that dropping out of college was one of the best decisions he...

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PALO ALTO, Calif. — Apple Computer’s CEO Steve Jobs told Stanford University graduates Sunday that dropping out of college was one of the best decisions he ever made because it forced him to be innovative — even when it came to finding enough money for dinner.

In an unusually candid commencement speech, Jobs also told the almost 5,000 graduates that his bout with a rare form of pancreatic cancer re-emphasized the need to live each day to the fullest.

“Your time is limited so don’t let it be wasted living someone else’s life,” Jobs said to a packed stadium of graduates, alumni and family.

Jobs, wearing sandals and jeans under his robe, was treated like a rock star by the students, in large part because of a surge in popularity of Apple’s iPod digital music player.

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A group of students wore iPod mini costumes over their robes and several students shouted: “Steve, hire me!”

Jobs, 50, said he attended Reed College in Portland but dropped out after only eight months because it was too expensive for his working-class family. He said his real education started when he “dropped in” on whatever classes interested him — including calligraphy.

Jobs said he lived off 5-cent soda-recycling deposits and free food offered by Hare Krishnas while taking classes.

He told the graduates that few friends could see the value of learning calligraphy at the time but that painstaking attention to detail — including mastering different “fonts” — was what set Macintosh apart from its competitors.

“If I had never dropped out I might never have dropped in on that calligraphy,” Jobs said.

Jobs also recounted founding Apple in his parents’ basement and his tough times after being forced out of the company he founded when he was only 30. “I was a very public failure, and I even thought about running away from the valley,” Jobs said.

Instead, he founded Pixar Studios, which has released enormously popular films such as “Finding Nemo” and “Monsters, Inc.”

“It was awful-tasting medicine, but I guess the patient needed it,” Jobs said.

When he was diagnosed with cancer, Jobs said, his doctor told him he had only three to six months to live. He later found out he had a rare, treatable form of the disease — but he still learned a tough lesson.

“Remembering you are going to die is the best way to avoid the fear that you have something to lose,” he said.

Before the ceremony, a plane rented by the Computer TakeBack Campaign, an environmental group, flew over the stadium with a banner that read: “Steve, don’t be a mini player — recycle all e-waste.” The group is prodding Apple to improve its efforts to recycle obsolete electronics.