Here is the full text (verbatim as delivered) of Apple CEO Tim Cook’s commencement address at MIT on June 9, 2017.
Tim Cook joined Apple in March 1998 as a senior vice president for worldwide operations, and then served as the executive vice president for worldwide sales and operations. He was made the chief executive on August 24, 2011, prior to Steve Jobs’ death in October of that year.
Listen to the MP3 audio here:
Thank you. Congratulations Class of ’17.
I especially want to thank Chairman Millard, President Reif, distinguished faculty, trustees, and members of the Class of 1967. It’s a privilege to be with you today, with your families and your friends on such an amazing, important day.
MIT and Apple share so much. We both love hard problems. We love the search for new ideas. And we especially love finding those ideas, the really big ones — the ones that can change the world.
I know MIT has a proud tradition of pranks, or as you would call them, hacks. And you have pulled off some pretty great ones over the years. I’ll never figure out how MIT students sent that Mars Rover to the Kresge Oval, or put a propeller beanie on the Great Dome, or how you’ve obviously taken over the President’s Twitter account.
I can tell college students are behind it because most of the tweets happen at 3 AM. I’m really happy to be here.
Today is about celebration. And you have so much to be proud of.
As you leave here to start the next leg of your journey in life, there will be days where you will ask yourself, where is all this going? What is the purpose? What is my purpose?
I’ll be honest, I asked myself that same question, and it took me nearly 15 years to answer it. Maybe by talking about my journey today, I can save you some time.
The struggle for me started early on. In high school, I thought I’d discover my life’s purpose when I could answer that age old question, what do you want to be when you grow up — nope.
In college I thought I would discover it when I could answer, what’s your major — not quite. I thought that maybe I’d discover it when I found a good job. Then I thought I just needed to get a few promotions. That didn’t work either.
I kept convincing myself that it was just over the horizon, around the next corner. Nothing worked.
And it was really tearing me apart. Part of me kept pushing ahead to the next achievement. And the other part kept asking, is this all there is?
I went to grad school at Duke looking for the answer. I tried meditation. I sought guidance in religion. I read great philosophers and authors. And in a moment of youthful indiscretion, I might even have experimented with a Windows PC. And obviously that didn’t work.
After countless twists and turns, at last, 20 years ago, my search brought me to Apple. At the time the company was struggling to survive. Steve Jobs had just returned to Apple and he had launched the “Think Different” campaign. He wanted to empower the crazy ones, the misfits, the rebels, the troublemakers, the round pegs in the square holes to do their best work.
If we could just do that, Steve knew we could really change the world.
Before that moment, I had never met a leader with such passion or encountered a company with such a clear and compelling purpose, to serve humanity. It was just that simple, serve humanity.
And it was in that moment, after 15 years of searching, something clicked. I finally felt aligned, aligned with a company that brought together challenging cutting-edge work with a higher purpose, aligned with a leader who believed that technology which didn’t exist yet could reinvent tomorrow’s world, aligned with myself and my own deep need to serve something greater.
Of course, at that moment I didn’t know all of that. I was just grateful to have that psychological burden lifted. But with the help of hindsight, my breakthrough makes a lot more sense.
I was never going to find my purpose working someplace without a clear sense of purpose of its own. Steve and Apple freed me to throw my whole self into my work, to embrace their mission and make it my own.
How can I serve humanity? This is life’s biggest and most important question.
When you work towards something greater than yourself, you find meaning. You find purpose. So the question I hope you will carry forward from here is how will you serve humanity?
The good news is since you’re here today, you’re already on a great track. At MIT you’ve learned how much power science and technology have to change the world for the better.
Thanks to discoveries made right here, billions of people are leading healthier and more productive, more fulfilling lives. And if we are ever going to solve some of the hardest problems still facing the world today, everything from cancer to climate change to educational inequality, then technology will help us do it.
But technology alone isn’t the solution. And sometimes it’s even part of the problem.
Last year I had a chance to meet with Pope Francis. It was the most incredible meeting of my life. This is a man who had spent more time comforting the afflicted in slums than he has with heads of state. This may surprise you, but he knew an unbelievable amount about technology.
It was obvious to me that he had thought deeply about it, its opportunities, its risks, its morality. What he said to me at that meeting, what he preached really, was on a topic we care a lot about at Apple.
But he expressed a shared concern in a powerful new way. Never has humanity had such power over itself, yet nothing ensures that it will be used wisely he has said.