Apple CEO Tim Cook Urges GWU Graduates To Develop Moral Compass

05/17/2015 03:36 pm ET | Updated May 18, 2015

Apple CEO Tim Cook urged graduating George Washington University students to follow their values and find a job that helps them do good in a commencement speech delivered Sunday.

Cook talked of justice and injustice in a speech that paid homage to Martin Luther King Jr., Robert F. Kennedy and Jimmy Carter, delivered to a crowd on the National Mall in Washington, D.C., VentureBeat reported. The university expected about 25,000 people to attend the commencement exercises, according to the outlet.

The CEO mentioned the civil rights leader three times in his 20-minute speech, and said that King, along with Kennedy, had been one of his childhood heroes.

Cook, who grew up in Alabama, shared a story about his first visit to the nation's capital in 1977, at the age of 16. On the trip, Cook met with then-President Carter right after meeting Alabama's governor, George Wallace, who had opposed desegregation in the '60s. (Wallace is perhaps best remembered for his 1963 inaugural address that called for "segregation now, segregation tomorrow and segregation forever.")

“Meeting my governor was not an honor for me,” Cook told the graduates. “Shaking his hand felt like a betrayal of my own beliefs. It felt wrong, like I was selling a piece of my soul.”

It was very different from meeting America's then-president, Cook said.

“Carter was kind and compassionate. He held the most powerful job in the world, and had not sacrificed any of his humanity,” he said. “It was clear to me that one was right and one was wrong."

Cook ended with a call for graduates to live their values and change the world -- and said that working at Apple had helped him do just that:

We believe that a company that has values and acts on them can really change the world. And an individual can too. That can be you. That must be you. Graduates, your values matter. They are your North Star. Otherwise it’s just a job -- and life is too short for that. ... You don’t have to choose between doing good and doing well. It’s a false choice, today more than ever.

Your challenge is to find work that pays the rent, puts food on the table, and lets you do what is right and good and just.

Words to aspire to.

CORRECTION: A previous version of this article stated incorrectly that Cook spoke about John F. Kennedy. He spoke about Robert F. Kennedy.

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