A Cynical Look At Tim Cook's Commencement Speech

If there’s one message we hope has been received loud and clear by any recent college graduates who peruse these pages, it’s that maintaining a bit of cynicism regarding your future is not only healthy, but in fact imperative. 


Why? There a number of reasons.

First, the average amount of debt for graduating seniors has risen every year since at least 1993, hitting $35,000 for this year’s graduating class even as some evidence suggests that these degrees are worth less than they have ever been in terms of helping students find gainful post-graduation employment. One reason for this is that college degrees — indeed, even advanced degrees — are commonplace, meaning that even those with master’s degrees may find themselves joining what we have dubbed the “waiter and bartender” recovery, as ‘qualified’ applicants outnumber high-level positions. There’s also the fact that according to the OECD, $35,000 degrees do not necessarily prepare students for the real world and there are now serious questions as to whether colleges and universities are teaching the right skills. 


Meanwhile, the “resilient” jobs market and US economic “recovery” are pure fiction — a myth created by the BLS and BEA who vanish workers and double-adjust the numbers in a shameless goal-seeking exercise designed to perpetuate the idea that the Fed and its post-crisis policies have the country on its way back to prosperity.

In reality, the central bank has done nothing more than “destroy creative destruction” (to use Citi’s words), pushing an inevitable bad asset purge later into the future and embedding untold amounts of risk into the financial system in the mean time while simultaneously exacerbating class segregation by widening the gap between the wealthy and everyone else. 

As for the country’s social fabric, well, the events that unfolded in Baltimore in late April underscore the degree to which racial tensions have once again served as the catalyst for violent protests, some five decades after the Civil Rights Movement. 

It’s against this backdrop that LA Times columnist Chris Erksine takes aim at a commencement speech given by Apple CEO Tim Cook at George Washington University. 

Via LA Times:

In an address at George Washington University, Apple's Tim Cook urged grads to tune out the cynics.


"There will always be cynics and critics on the sidelines tearing people down," he said.


OK, Cookie. And where do I send the thank-you note and a small gift?


Keep in mind, there is nothing as excruciating as a graduation address. Steve Jobs famously nailed a Stanford commencement in 2005, but most graduations mean prolonged suffering in airless arenas. What do they ask grads and trustees to wear? Heavy robes. In May, no less. Right there, you know some sort of punishment is at hand.


Doesn't help that graduation advice always seems to come from someone so successful that he or she will never need to balance a checkbook again, or worry that the car will hold out or learn how to care for an aging mother who keeps setting her stove on fire in the home she swears she'll never leave.


It's understandable that commencement planners pick speakers of means and accomplishment. They'd be better off picking cynics, those wandering minstrels of a vibrant nation.


Thomas Jefferson. Bob Dylan. Jon Stewart. To this day, our nation's greatest global achievement was the 1st Amendment, based in part on French philosophers who spent lazy, liquored afternoons figuring out ways to provoke politicians and afflict the affluent. Such ornery subversives are as necessary as rain. A little fragrant under their robes, perhaps. But that's what democracy smells like sometimes.


Our country doesn't produce philosophers. What we have is late-night talk-show hosts, who do a pretty reasonable job, with a soapbox Voltaire or Diogenes would've envied.


That greatest of cynics, David Letterman, retired recently, a setback for cranky truthfulness in general.


That he will be missed more than most presidents is a tribute to the appeal of his honest rants. Letterman was our Will Rogers, our H.L. Mencken, a witty and real Sultan of Snark. Miss him already.


I miss the late Christopher Hitchens as well. It was Hitchens who once noted, of children: "It's a solid lesson in the limitations of self to realize that your heart is running around inside someone else's body."


Or: "I became a journalist partly so that I wouldn't ever have to rely on the press for my information."


So see, Mr. Cook, we need our wry and fearless cynics, not corporate types who can't help but plug the product, as you shamelessly did in your commencement address. After all, your hero Jobs was a cynic at heart, a different and artful drummer, a philosopher in the first degree.


I love millennials, have several myself, and recommend them to everyone...


In his address, Cook also told these millennials, "Don't shrink from risk."


That's a musty old standard for commencement addresses: Find your passion, follow your dreams, take some risks, blah-blah-blah-blah-blah-blah 


It cannot be lost among the most discerning grads that these commencement tips are coming from a generation that left them with crushing student debt, a wobbly job market, unaffordable real estate and cities increasingly ablaze. In the '70s, we'd have jeered them from the stage.


What I do sense from my encounters with millennials is that they prefer authenticity over everything else...


So please grasp at least this: In a world that over-worships corporate bottom lines, grads should be encouraged to embrace the healthy cynicism we all require to survive.


Read the full article here

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Here is the full commencement speech: