Apple CEO Tim Cook drew from his experience of taking over the tech giant after the death of Steve Jobs to give some life advice to new graduates during his commencement speech at Stanford University on Sunday.
After waxing on the dark horizon of Silicon Valley and Stanford’s role in it, Cook devoted the end of his speech to the ephemerality of time, the concept of readiness and how it’s often actually not possible, and the generational expectations and legacies.
“Things feel like they have taken a sharp turn,” Cook said about the tech in the inextricable worlds of Stanford and surrounding Silicon Valley.
The crux of Cook’s speech was a recognition of what the rest of the world has seen in recent years: the popping of Silicon’s Valley’s shiny bubble of innovation — of neat “code, optimism and idealism” — and its descent into mess, moral ambiguity, and much-needed accountability. As examples, he gestured toward the shortcomings of Facebook (“privacy violation”), YouTube (a “blind eye turned to hate speech”) and Theranos (“the false promise of miracles in exchange for a single drop of your blood”).
“This place still believes that the human capacity to solve problems is boundless. But so, it seems, is our potential to create them,” Cook said.
Cook imparted his final pieces of wisdom to new graduates in the context of his taking over Apple as chief executive and a changing Silicon Valley:
“Your mentors may leave you prepared, but they can’t leave you ready.”
In 2005, Steve Jobs gave the Stanford commencement speech and told the audience, “Your time is limited, so don’t waste it living someone else’s life.”
Cook referenced the famous quote in his own speech, drawing upon his personal experience of being passed the CEO torch at Apple as Jobs went on medical leave and later died. Jobs could leave him prepared, Cook said, but never truly ready to take over the company.
“When Steve got sick, I had hardwired my thinking to the belief that he would get better,” Cook said, “And when he was gone, truly gone, I learned the real, visceral difference between preparation and readiness.”
Cook recounted this time as “the loneliest I’ve ever felt in my life,” but said that, “When the dust settled, all I knew was that I was going to have to be the best version of myself that I could be.”
“Don’t try to emulate the people who came before you to the exclusion of everything else.”
Cook’s advice for those looking to be their best self is to put on blinders to outside expectations.
“If you got out of bed every morning and set your watch by what other people expect or demand, it’d drive you crazy,” Cook said.
He cautioned against “contorting into a shape that doesn’t fit” yourself, which wastes time and fools no one.
“When your time comes, and it will, you’ll never be ready. But you’re not supposed to be.”
And when graduates find they are not ready, Cook suggested seeking out “hope in the unexpected,” “courage in the challenge,” and “vision on the solitary road.” He warned against getting distracted, and he denounced folks who fail to take responsibility, but demand credit.
“You can’t take it with you. You’re going to have to pass it on.”
Cook concluded by urging graduates to “Be different. Leave something worthy.” Like Jobs passing Apple onto Cook, a worthy endeavor will become part of graduates’ legacies.
You can watch Cook’s full speech in the video below.