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Apple's Tim Cook tells GW grads: Ignore the cynics, change the world like Steve Jobs did

Bob Brown | May 19, 2015
Transcript of Apple CEO Tim Cook's commencement address at George Washington University.

My own journey in life was just beginning. I hadn't even applied for college yet at that point. For you graduates, the process of discovering yourself, of inventing yourself, of reinventing yourself is about to begin in earnest. It's about finding your values and committing to live by them. You have to find your North Star. And that means choices. Some are easy. Some are hard. And some will make you question everything. Twenty years after my visit to Washington, I met someone who made me question everything. Who upended all of my assumptions in the very best way. That was Steve Jobs.

Steve had built a successful company. He had been sent away and he returned to find it in ruins. He didn't know it at the time, but he was about to dedicate the rest of his life to rescuing it, and leading it to heights greater than anyone could ever imagine. Anyone, that is, except for Steve. Most people have forgotten, but in 1997 and early 1998, Apple had been adrift for years. Rudderless. But Steve thought Apple could be great again. And he wanted to know if I'd like to help.

His vision for Apple was a company that turned powerful technology into tools that were easy to use, tools that would help people realize their dreams. And change the world for the better. I had studied to be an engineer and earned an M.B.A. I was trained to be pragmatic, a problem solver. Now I found myself sitting before and listening to this very animated 40something guy with visions of changing the world. It was not what I had expected. You see, when it came to my career, in 1998, I was also adrift. Rudderless.

I knew who I was in my personal life, and I kept my eye on my North Star, my responsibility to do good for someone else, other than myself. But at work, well I always figured that work was work. Values had their place and, yes, there were things that I wanted to change about the world, but I thought I had to do that on my own time. Not in the office. Steve didn't see it that way. He was an idealist. And in that way he reminded me of how I felt as a teenager. In that first meeting he convinced me if we worked hard and made great products, we too could help change the world. And to my surprise, I was hooked. I took the job and changed my life. It's been 17 years and I have never once looked back.

At Apple we believe the work should be more than just about improving your own self. It's about improving the lives of others as well. Our products do amazing things. And just as Steve envisioned, they empower people all over the world. People who are blind, and need information read to them because they can't see the screen. People for whom technology is a lifeline because they are isolated by distance or disability. People who witness injustice and want to expose it, and now they can because they have a camera in their pocket all the time.


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