Cook challenged students to “think different” rather than accept the status quo, and to leave the world better than they found it, by following in the footsteps of leaders like Steve Jobs, Robert F. Kennedy, and Martin Luther King Jr. He also reflected on Apple’s commitment to the environment and privacy.
An excerpt from his speech:
The pace at which progress is possible has accelerated dramatically. 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. Whatever you choose to do with your life, wherever your passion takes you, I urge you to take the power you have been given and use it for good. Aspire to leave this world better than you found it.
I didn’t always see life as clearly as I do today. But I’ve learned that the greatest challenge of life is knowing when to break with conventional wisdom. Don’t just accept the world you inherit today. Don’t just accept the status quo. No big challenge has ever been solved, and no lasting improvement has ever been achieved, unless people dare to try something different. Dare to think different.
I was lucky to learn from someone who believed this deeply—someone who knew that changing the world starts with following a vision, not a path. He was my friend and mentor, Steve Jobs.
Steve’s vision was that great ideas come from a restless refusal to accept things as they are, and those principles still guide us at Apple today. We reject the notion that global warming is inevitable—that’s why we run Apple on 100 percent renewable energy. We reject 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 as possible, and being thoughtful and respectful when it’s in our care.
Cook’s commencement address was similar to those he has delivered at a number of other universities in recent years, including at his undergraduate alma mater Auburn University in 2010, at George Washington University in 2015, and at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology last year.
Cook is a 1988 graduate of Duke’s Fuqua School of Business and a member of the university’s Board of Trustees.