Today, May 3rd, Apple CEO Tim Cook delivered the commencement speech for the graduating class of 2020 at Ohio State University.
During the speech, he touched on a wide range of topics, from his early beginnings at Apple, to the current state of the world. Courtesy of Ohio State University, find below the full speech, alongside the written transcript.
Good afternoon, OSU.
Before we get to the important work of your future, I want to take a moment to consider our past. It’s 1918, dawn, a young assistant secretary of the Navy, just 36 at the time, was headed overseas, tasked with making sure America’s green and untested troops were ready for action in Europe’s great war.
An iconoclastic poet and academic, barely 30, balances odd jobs as a high school teacher and banker after the outbreak of war had dashed his hopes of defending his dissertation.
And a young nurse, only 20, began caring for wounded soldiers at a military hospital in Toronto. She worked ever longer hours as a strange sickness began to appear beside the wounds of war. By the time the Spanish flu swept through their countries, their communities and their bodies, these three would be forever changed.
Franklin Delano Roosevelt was carried off a military ship on a stretcher. Once he had recovered back home in New York, he was the nominee for vice president, beginning a career in national politics that would change the course of history.
While lying in his sick bed, T.S. Eliot began writing what would become “The Waste Land,” his poetic masterpiece. It begins, “April is the cruelest month,” and it began a movement of literary modernism that would win him the Nobel Prize for literature.
And when Amelia Earhart finally caught the flu from one of her patients, her recovery was more complicated and painful than most. To pass the long and boring hours of quarantine and social distance, she would watch the airplanes coming and going. And she started to wonder whether she might like a change of career.
Graduates, I’m sorry that we’re not celebrating together today. Your class is a special one marked by history like few others in OSU’s 150 years. And while we aren’t shoulder to shoulder in the Horseshoe, filling it to the rafters, I know your parents, your loved ones, your friends and teachers are no less overwhelmed with the pride in you and in what you have achieved.
It can be difficult to see the whole picture when you’re still inside the frame, but I hope you wear these uncommon circumstances as a badge of honor. Those who meet times of historical challenge with their eyes and hearts open, forever restless and forever striving, are also those who leave the greatest impact on the lives of others. In every age, life has a frustrating way of reminding us that we are not the sole authors of our story. We must share credit, whether we’d like to or not, with a difficult and selfish collaborator called our circumstances.
And when our glittering plans are scrambled, as they often will be, and our dearest hopes were dashed, as will sometimes happen, we’re left with a choice. We can curse the loss of something that was never going to be or we can see reasons to be grateful for the yank on the scruff of the neck and having our eyes lifted up from the story we were writing for ourselves and turned instead to a remade world.
When I joined Apple in 1998, I couldn’t believe my luck. I was going to spend the rest of my life working for Steve Jobs. But fate comes like a thief in the night. The loneliness I felt when we lost Steve was proof there is nothing more eternal or more powerful than the impact we have on others.
Those of us who can look back on this time and remember inconveniences and even boredom can count themselves lucky. Many more will know real hardship and fear. Others still will be cut to the bone.
And while we turn to our loved ones and friends for comfort, think hard about those whose impact on your life is more distant but no less meaningful. Think about an undocumented father, ignored or scorned by his community, who is putting himself at risk in the fields today to feed his family and yours. Think about a single mother who stocks shelves at night and drives a city bus in the morning, without whom so much would fall apart.
Think about the hospital orderly scrubbing down the ward on hands and knees, whose work today is as solitary and sacred as a high priest purifying a temple. Most of all, think about how you, blessed with a world-class education, might act and work and be differently when all this is said and done. Memorialized in your heart, the way in which these times reveal what really matters: the health and well-being of our loved ones, the resilience of our communities and the sacrifices made by those from doctors to garbage collectors who give their whole selves to serving others.
Not being able to leave the house leaves you with a lot of odd gaps of time to fill. I’ve been trying to use them to read, and I keep coming back to Abraham Lincoln. I’d recommend it to anyone who wants to put these times into perspective. You’ll be shocked at how clever and funny and alive his thinking still is, how this reserved and humble man managed in noisy times to call others to hope. And as we celebrate OSU’s 150th anniversary, it’s worth remembering that the school wouldn’t exist without the land-grant university system that Lincoln signed into law.
It’s also hard to imagine someone more defined by their circumstances. Lincoln found his country on fire and chose to run into the flames. And he gave everything he had to bring his people, chaotic and squabbling, fundamentally flawed, yet fundamentally good, along with him.
“The dogmas of the quiet past are inadequate to the stormy present,” he said. “The occasion is piled high with difficulty and we must rise with the occasion. As our case is new, so we must think anew and act anew. We must disenthrall ourselves and then we shall save our country.”
Graduates, your case is new. For you, the old dogmas had never been an option. You don’t have the luxury of being enthralled. You enter a world of difficulty with open eyes, tasked with writing a story that is not necessarily of your choosing, but is still entirely yours. You’re the pride of your parents and grandparents, of aunts, uncles and teachers, of the communities that shaped you in ways seen and unseen.
You weren’t promised this day. Many of you had to fight hard to earn it. Now it’s yours. Think anew, act anew, build a better future than the one you thought was certain. And in a fearful time, call us once again to hope.
Congratulations to you all. Be great. Be well.
Thank you very much.
Congrats to the Ohio State Class of 2020!