(DURHAM, N.C.) — In a commencement speech at Duke University on Sunday, Apple Chief Executive Officer Tim Cook told graduates to be “fearless” like the women in the #MeToo movement and the high school students from Parkland, Florida, who both stood up to rally the masses in a quest to change the world for the better.
Some three decades after he graduated from Duke’s Fuqua School of Business, the 57-year-old Cook returned to the Durham, North Carolina, campus bent on inspiring a new generation to reject the status quo and “and dare to think different.”
He cited recent examples of people who have been driven to confront the powerful standing in the way of change.
“It’s in those truly trying moments that the fearless inspire us. Fearless, like the students of Parkland, Florida, who refused to be silent about the epidemic of gun violence and have rallied millions to their cause,” he said, prompting loud applause for the students at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School who survived the Feb. 14 shooting that left 17 people dead and led nationwide protests for stricter gun laws.
“Fearless like the women who say ‘Me Too’ and ‘Times Up,’ women who cast light into dark places and move us to a more just and equal future,” Cook said. “Fearless like those who fight for the rights of immigrants who understand that our only hopeful future is one that embraces all who want to contribute.”
He told the graduates that they are about set their course in “the world at a time of challenge.”
“Our country is deeply divided and too many Americans refuse to hear any opinion that differs from their own,” he said in his keynote address at Duke’s Wallace Wade Stadium. “Our planet is warming from devastating consequences and there are some that even deny it’s even happening. Our schools and communities suffer from deep inequality. We fail to guarantee every student the right to a good education.”
Cook told the graduates “you are not powerless to fix them,” saying no generation has had more power than them to change things faster.
“The pace at which progress is possible has accelerated dramatically,” he said. “Aided by technology, every individual has the tools, potential and reach to build a better world. That makes this the best time in history to be alive.”
He said he was in Memphis, Tennessee, last month to help commemorate the 50 anniversary of the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr., and met the men and women who faced police dogs and endured beatings to become “foot soldiers for justice.”
“Fearlessness means taking the first step even if you don’t know where it will take you,” Cook said. “It means being driven by a higher purpose, rather than by applause. It means knowing that you reveal your character when you stand apart more than when you stand with the crowd.”
Cook mentioned his mentor, Steve Jobs, saying the founder of Apple, who died in 2011 after battling cancer, had a vision “that great ideas come from restless refusal to accept things as they are.”
He said the philosophy still guides Apple today.
“We reject the notion that global warming is inevitable. That’s why we run Apple on 100 percent renewable energy,” he said.
In what appeared to be a jab at Facebook, which sparked outrage earlier this year by disclosing that data of millions of users had been obtained by a political consulting firm, Cook said Apple rejects “the excuse that getting the most out of technology means trading away your right to privacy.”
“So we choose a different path, collecting as little of your data a possible, being thoughtful and respectful when it’s in our care because we know it belongs to you,” he said.
Cook also gave a shout out to the mothers in the audience on Mother’s Day, saying he wouldn’t have graduated from Duke and forged a successful career without the support of his mother, Geraldine.
He also recited the words of Robert F. Kennedy 50 years ago to the date when he challenged students in Nebraska to a call to action.
Cook said Kennedy, a candidate to become the Democratic nominee for president who was be assassinated a month later, told the students to “look across this country and when you see people’s lives held back by discrimination and poverty, when you see injustice and inequality, he said you should be the last people to accept things as they are.”
“Duke graduates, you should be the last people to accept it and you should be the first to change it,” he said.
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