“Sidelines are not where you want to live your life, ” Tim Cook, Apple CEO, told George Washington University graduates in a commencement speech on Sunday, 17 May. Photograph: William Atkins/The George Washington University
Cook was delivering the commencement speech at George Washington University, in Washington DC.
“His vision for Apple was a company that turned powerful technology into tools that were easy to use, tools that would help people realize their dreams and change the world for the better, ” Cook said of Jobs, Apple’s co-founder who died in 2011.
“Our products do amazing things, and just as Steve envisioned, they empower people all over the world, ” Cook continued. “People who are blind and need information read to them because they can’t see the screen. People for whom technology is a lifeline because they are isolated by distance or disability.
“People who witness injustice and want to expose it. And now they can, because they have a camera in their pocket all the time.”
In one recent, high-profile instance, a video recorded by a bystander in South Carolina showed a white police officer shooting Walter Scott, a 50-year-old black man, eight times in the back as he ran away. The officer, Michael Slager, was charged with murder.Phone footage shows South Carolina police officer Michael Slager shooting dead Walter Scott.
In his 20-minute speech, Cook spoke about growing up in southern Alabama, where former governor George C Wallace blocked school doors to prevent blacks from enrolling. According to Cook, Wallace “embraced the evils of segregation”.
“Meeting my governor was not an honor for me, ” Cook said. “My heroes in life were Dr Martin Luther King and Robert F Kennedy, who have fought against the very things that Wallace stood for.
“Keep in mind that when I grew up, I grew up in the place where King and Kennedy were not held in high esteem. When I was a kid, the south was still coming to grips with its history. My textbooks even said that the Civil War was about states’ rights. They barely mentioned slavery.”
Cook said that when he was 16, shaking hands with Wallace felt like a betrayal of his own beliefs. He impressed upon the students that “injustices like segregation have no place in our world” and that “equality is a right”.
“In his letter from the Birmingham jail, Dr King wrote that our society needed to repent – not merely for the hateful words of the bad people, but for the appalling silence of the good people, ” Cook said.
“Sidelines are not where you want to live your life. The world needs you in the arena. There are problems that need to be solved. Injustices that need to be ended. People that are still being persecuted.”