Why Tim Cook says college grads should prioritize making a difference: ‘Leading a company and a good life are not the same thing’

Apple CEO Tim Cook has some career advice for recent college graduates — and it’s not about out-working competitors.

Instead, it’s about making a career — and a life — out of what drives you. At Gallaudet University’s commencement ceremony in Washington D.C. on Friday, Cook said he thinks young people can lead meaningful careers if they’re guided by values, ethics or causes that motivate them to make a difference.

“I recognize that leading a company and leading a good life are not the same thing, but I know in my heart that staying true to who you are and what you believe is one of the most important choices you can make,” Cook said in his speech, which was translated into American Sign Language. “It will help you form better relationships. It will help you find more satisfaction in your work.”

It’s a lesson, the tech titan said, that he learned from his 24 years at Apple. By prioritizing his own beliefs — specifically regarding sustainability, privacy and accessibility — he has developed strategies to lead the company while feeling personally fulfilled in his life outside the office.

In fact, Cook — who joined Apple in 1998 and became CEO in 2011 — said a “sense of meaning” is what initially drew him to the company.  

“Our purpose has always been to create technology that enriches people’s lives,” Cook said. “That’s why we work hard to make technology that is accessible to everyone, why we fight to protect the fundamental right to privacy and why we are constantly innovating to help protect the environment and leave the world better than we found it.”

Cook’s prioritization of accessibility likely resonated with Friday’s audience. Gallaudet University is “the only university in the world where deaf, deafblind and hard of hearing students live and learn bilingually in American Sign Language and English,” according to the school’s website. And it’s not the first time the university and Apple have collaborated: A 2020 initiative gifted all of the school’s students and faculty with MacBook Pros or iPad Pros. Last year, an all-deaf team worked with the company to create Apple Map Guides to spotlight businesses and organizations that support the Deaf community.

On Global Accessibility Awareness Day in May 2021, the company launched new services and apps for deaf and hard of hearing users, like an interpretation service that lets customers communicate with AppleCare and retail representatives by using sign language.

At the time, Cook made his intentions clear with a tweet, stating “everyone should have the tools they need to change the world.

The sentiment appears to have foreshadowed Cook’s commencement address, where the CEO concluded the speech by wishing the graduates luck, fulfillment and meaning in their careers to come.

“When you imagine your future and the winding path that is laid out before you, remember that the question you should ask is not what will happen, but who will I be when it does?” Cook said. “I hope you be good stewards of the planet we inhabit and participants in the fight to make it better, more equal, more accessible.”  

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