On Tuesday, December 9, Apple CEO Tim Cook was honored with the Lifetime Achievement Award from Auburn University. As a staunchly private man, his powerful speech on equality was a surprise to everyone and brought shouts of approval and a standing ovation from his audience.
He opened his speech thanking people for the award, then took the remaining time to speak about his personal beliefs on the importance of “basic human rights and human dignity.” The thirteen-minute speech addressed immigration reform, LGBT rights and acknowledging the importance of previous human rights advocates.
Growing up in Alabama in the 1960s, Cook spoke of his experience witnessing the “devastating impacts of discrimination.” He explained that after seeing a cross burning, he took it as a “symbol of ignorance, of hatred, of a fear of anything different than the majority.”
He told the audience that working as CEO of Apple allowed him to take pride in the equal rights principles he so adamantly supported. In reference to the Employee Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA), he added, “These values have also recently guided us to support legislation that demands equality and non-discrimination for all employees regardless of who they love.”
ENDA’s proposed legislation would prevent discrimination on account of one’s sexual orientation or gender identity. Cook also recently advocated ENDA in an op-ed for the Wall Street Journal.
He said, “I have long believed in this…now is the time to write these basic principles of human dignity into the book of law.”
His speech invoked impromptu applause and support throughout.
He later went on to reference famous human rights activists such as Robert Kennedy, Martin Luther King and Nelson Mandela.
He struck a chord whilst directly quoting Robert Kennedy, who said, “Few will have the greatness to bend history itself, but…each time a man stands up for an ideal or acts to improve the lot of others…he sends forth a tiny ripple of hope. Those ripples build a current, which can sweep down the mightiest walls of oppression and resistance. Each generation is present with its own unique opportunities to address inequality and injustice; to respect human rights and the dignity and the worth of a human person. This work is never finished, but it is always possible.”
Cook then added to Kennedy’s quote, “Today we have an opportunity…to eliminate discrimination of the LGBT community.”
He also invited people to “advocate and push for immigration reform that recognizes basic human rights and human dignity…do not do them because they are economically sound, although they are. Do them because they are right and just.”
He ended his speech with a direct message to the listeners. “Never allow the majority to limit the rights of the minority. Never allow people who fear anyone different from themselves to limit others’ human rights.”