Apple CEO Tim Cook tells the new graduates to change the world like Steve Jobs

Tim Cook, Apple CEO in his commencement speech to graduating students of George Washington University on Sunday had only one central message: “This is your world to change.”

During his 20-minute-long commencement speech, Cook shared his personal experiences on meeting Governor George Wallace and President Jimmy Carter while he was teenager living in Alabama, reading history books that did not pay attention to slavery’s role in the Civil Ward, and his first meeting with Apple co-founder Steve Jobs in the late 1990s.

Before Cook joined Apple, he had shared a view in 1997 which said that many view work as boring, hopeless drudgery. However, Cook said Steve Jobs made him question everything he assumed was true. Jobs made him believe him that “doing good and doing well” were not mutually exclusive.

Cook also said “I always figured that work was work. There were things I wanted to change about the world, but I figured that was what I had to do on my own time. Steve didn’t see it that way. He convinced me that if we made great products, we too could change the world.”

Cook pointed to features on iPads, Macs and iPhones as an example that allows blind people to share or exchange information with their family and friends.

On changing the world, Cook pointed at citizen journalists who make use of their smartphones to capture and report police cruelty. He was lauded when he said that Apple products can give power to people who see injustice, because people now have a camera in their pocket all the time.

“At Apple, we believe the work should be more than about improving your own self; it’s about improving others’ lives as well,” Cook said. “We believe that a company with values and acts on them really can change the world.”

While commenting on his meeting with Alabama Governor George Wallace and President Jimmy Carter, he said his moral compass was adjusted when he met both of them as a high school student in the summer of 1977.

Cook was born into a poor family in Alabama, and by the time he was in high school, he still hadn’t left the south. But he said meeting the racist Wallace “was not an honor for me.”

“Shaking his hand felt like a betrayal of my own beliefs, like I was selling a piece of my soul,” Cook said of his introduction to the notoriously segregationist governor. However, he said that this meeting with Carter was more of a highlight. Cook said Carter approached life in a different way even though he was the governor of another bordering southern state (Georgia) and was a Democrat like Wallace. He was “kind and compassionate,” Cook said.

“One was right, and one was wrong,” Cook said of Carter and Wallace.

On speaking on Steve Jobs and the ‘North Star’, he advised the 2015 class graduates to use their own principles as their guides. He encouraged them to have Jobs’ hopefulness and confidence that work could better the world, and he persuaded them to have Carter’s humanity — something Cook said the President “had not sacrificed” in spite of holding the highest job in the world.

“Your values matter. They are your North Star,” Cook said. “Otherwise it’s just a job, and life is too short for that. The sidelines are not where you want to live your life. There are problems that need to be solved and injustices that need to be ended.”

Sunday’s address was the first commencement speech delivered by an Apple CEO since Steve Jobs spoke at Stanford University’s graduation in 2005. In 2010, while Cook was Apple’s chief operating officer, he had also delivered a commencement address at Auburn University, his alma mater.

Despite his very serious message, Cook couldn’t stop himself from making a little joke by taking a dig at the non-iPhone smartphone users in the audience.

“They’ve asked me to make a standard announcement … about silencing your phones,” Cook said. “So those of you with an iPhone, just place it in silent mode. If you don’t have an iPhone, please pass it to the centre aisle, Apple has a world-class recycling program.”

This is not the first time that Cook has joked about competing smartphones. At the 2014 company’s WWDC conference he told the audience that 130 million Apple customers that purchased one of the company’s products in the last 12 months were first-time Apple buyers.

“Many of these customers were switchers from Android,” he said. “They had bought an Android phone, by mistake, and then sought a better experience. And a better life. And decided to check out iPhone and iOS.”

Cook ended his speech by taking a photo of the graduating class with his iPhone.

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