This past Friday, Apple CEO Tim Cook was the commencement speaker at the graduation ceremony for Gallaudet University, a university for deaf and hard-of-hearing students located in Washington, D.C. As Lauren Lumpkin of the Washington Post reports, Apple has been working with Gallaudet for the last few years. For example, two years ago, every student and faculty member received an iPad Pro with an Apple Pencil.
I haven’t yet seen anyone post the full text of Cook’s speech. So much like I did when Tim Cook spoke at Tulane University three years ago, I’m sharing the full text here, with a few annotations, so that you can read his words even if you don’t have time to watch the video.
This speech didn’t contain the humor that Cook used when he addressed Tulane, especially in the beginning of that speech when Cook referenced a famous college bar by name and talked about his trips to New Orleans when he was at Auburn to get “beignets and beer.” But he did mention climate change again, which was a larger theme in his Tulane address. After quoting Franklin Roosevelt to Tulane, he quoted Elanor Roosevelt to Gallaudet. I personally enjoyed the Tulane address even more, but I realize that may in part because I enjoyed hearing Cook talk about New Orleans (where I live).
Without further ado, take it away, Tim…
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I am so honored to share this momentous occasion with all of you. Thank you to President Cordano, the Board of Trustees, the students, faculty, and staff, and all the proud families and friends in the audience for welcoming me today. I want to congratulate Dorothy [Dorothy Sueoka Casterline], Carl [Carl-Gusaf A. O. Croneberg], and Lauren [Lauren Ridloff] on your honorary degrees. Only one of you played a superhero on the big screen [Lauren Ridloff in the movie Eternals], but all three of you have set heroic examples as trailblazers and advocates for the deaf community. And thank you, of course, to Molly for the powerful words that you shared with us today. [Molly Feanny was the class speaker who invited Tim Cook to speak at graduation, as she explained in this article.]
Marlee [Marlee Matlin], I can’t thank you enough for that generous introduction. As you know, Marlee is a brilliant performer. One who has spent her career breaking barriers and defined expectations. But while Marlee’s talent shined through on-screen, she is just impressive off-screen. As a person, as a leader, and as an advocate, Marlee brings the same integrity and grace to everything she does. And we at Apple were so lucky to collaborate with her on CODA.
Finally, I want to say how grateful I am for the partnership that Apple and Gallaudet have built in recent years. As Apple works to design technology that is accessible to all, we are incredibly fortunate to have such innovative and committed partners. It’s thanks in part to this community that Apple Maps now has a series of guides that help users identify deaf-owned and deaf-friendly businesses. And we look forward to building on our partnership for many more years to come.
Class of 2022, you made it to this day, to this moment, to this achievement, which was never guaranteed. Every graduating class confronts challenges, but I think it is fair to say that you faced greater obstacles than most. After all, you were only in the Spring semester of 2020, a time when many of you were just hitting your stride, when the pandemic turned the world upside-down. For some of you, that meant leaving behind a campus where you have found a deep sense of community and acceptance, perhaps for the first time in your lives. For others, it meant remaining in D.C. without the friends and classmates you have come to think of as family. For all of you, though, it meant navigating a strange and uncertain world. It meant overcoming a whole new set of obstacles that tried to prevent you from being here today. But those obstacles, they couldn’t stop you. You are here today for a reason. You earned this. And no one can ever take that away from you.
The theme you chose for today’s ceremony is perseverance, which is a fitting description for the tenacity that life has demanded of you and for the grit and grace you’ve summoned to seize your future. Gallaudet has prepared you for a lifetime of discovery. There is so much you learned while you were here. More perhaps than you realize. Some of it happened in libraries and lecture halls. Some during dorm room discussions that stretched until dawn. And in the end, what you earned here is more than a diploma. It is more than a formal education. It is experience and insight and wisdom.
The questions you are grappling with today are not so different than the questions that motivate much of the world—especially at this moment in our history. For many, the pandemic upended not just the way we live our lives but the way we think about the lives we’re living. People are increasingly asking big questions of themselves. What do I really want to do with my life? How do I really want to be? At the heart of it, I think, is one of humanity’s most essential questions: what does it take to build the life that provides meaning and fulfillment? And the thing about it is that no one can answer that question for you. And that includes me. There’s no iPhone feature that can come to the rescue. AI is good, but it’s not that good.
Still, I have one important piece of advice I want to share—so important that it’s the only piece of advice I’m going to share today. And that is this: whatever you do, lead with your values. By leading with your values, what I mean is that you should make decisions, big and small, each and every day, based on a deep understanding of who you are and what you believe. These are not static things, and you wouldn’t want them to be. You will learn more and grow more with each passing year as all of us do. But there are foundational values that are bedrock. Things that are core to your personality and your character. And these are the things you should choose to live by.
At Gallaudet, you have received a world-class education. I hope you have used this time to think deeply and openly about the world around you. To determine what you believe and why you believe it. What matters now is that you let those ideas guide you. That you let your values lead you. This is how you build the life of meaning and fulfillment.
For me, it was a sense of meaning that drew me to Apple in the first place. As a company, our purpose has always been to create technology that enriches people’s lives. And we believe we can only achieve that goal through a relentless focus on our values. That’s why we work hard to make technology that is accessible to everyone. Why we fight to protect the fundamental right to privacy. And why we are constantly innovating to protect the environment and leave the world better than we found it.
My values have also helped me persevere through the tough decisions in both my professional and personal life. When people questioned the financial wisdom of our commitment to sustainability, I spoke my values when I made it clear that fighting climate change is, and will remain, one of our most important goals. And in my own life, it was my values that called me to tell the world I am gay so that I might bring a measure of hope to people still hiding who they are from the world. Put simply, my values are the driving force behind everything I do. And they’re at the heart of every decision I make.
Now, I recognize that leading a company and leading a good life are not the same thing. But I know in my heart that staying true to who you are and what you believe is one of the most important choices you can make. It will help you form better relationships. It will help you find more satisfaction in your work. And, with a little luck, and a lot of effort, it will help you build a more meaningful life.
Of course, sometimes the most meaningful life is the one that’s least expected. If I’ve learned anything, it’s that the future is unpredictable, even as we put our best efforts into shaping it. And that’s okay. As Elanor Roosevelt wrote, if life were predictable, it would cease to be life and be without flavor.
And so when you imagine your future, and the winding path that is laid out before you, remember that the question you should ask is not “What will happen?” but “Who will I be when it does?” I hope you will be kind and compassionate. I hope you will see there is wonder in being part of something bigger than yourself and magic to be found in the service of others. I hope you will be good stewards of the planet we inhabit and participants in the fight to make it better, more equal, more accessible, more just. I hope you will hold tightly to the community you’ve built here because whatever life brings, your success will be sweetened and your setbacks softened if you can share them together. Most of all, I hope you will find happiness and joy, meaning and fulfillment, and a life that gives to you all that you ask of it.
Class of 2022, this is your moment. And I, for one, can’t wait to see what you do. Thank you so much, and congratulations!