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MIT grads are already taking Tim Cook's graduation advice

Melody Hahm
Senior Writer
CAMBRIDGE, MA -Massachusetts Institute of Technology Graduate student Nicolas Gomez, who received a degree in civil engineering, wears a pencil sphere on his cap during the MIT commencement at Killian Court on the MIT campus (John Tlumacki/The Boston Globe via Getty Images)

Astronaut Buzz Aldrin, Nobel Prize winning economist Joseph Stiglitz, former US Treasury Secretary Larry Summers, futurist Ray Kurzweil, Zipcar co-founder Robin Chase and billionaire brothers David and Charles Koch have one thing in common. They are all MIT grads.

Over 3,500 graduates joined the illustrious cohort this summer, and Yahoo Finance spoke with several of them to hear about their post-graduation plans. All of the recent graduates said that Apple (AAPL) CEO Tim Cook’s commencement address resonated with them deeply.

The 2017 ceremony kicked off with an inspiring and impassioned speech from Cook, who urged graduates to consider life’s biggest and most important question.

“How will you serve humanity?”

“When you work toward something greater than yourself, you find meaning, you find purpose… How will you serve humanity?” Cook said.

Cook drew out the similarities between the world’s largest company and the prestigious research institution early on in his speech. “MIT and Apple share so much. We both love hard problems, we love to search for new ideas, finding those big ideas,” Cook said. “The ones that can change the world.”

This year, 3,533 people graduated from MIT: 31.7% received bachelor’s degrees; 50.4% got their master’s; and 17.9% received doctoral and engineering degrees.

Johnny Guzman, who received a bachelor’s of science in biology, will pursue a PhD in cancer biology and immunology in New York City this fall. He said that Cook’s speech reminded him why he decided to come to MIT in the first place.

“This place preaches meritocracy but also pursuing excellence not for personal achievement but because you really care about the world and helping society — that’s exactly what I believe in as well,” he explained.

Embodying “mens et manus”

MIT’s motto is “mens et manus,” which translates to “mind and hand.” Guzman said MIT cultivated this desire to pursue a profession with rigor and compassion.

Guzman said that Cook “really emphasized that technology isn’t an innovative power all by itself but it’s something we need to be conscious about and apply good morals to make sure it’s used in all the best ways.”

Guzman was responding to Cook’s point that while tech can be a force for good it has a lot of potential to do harm in the world. “The potential adverse consequences are spreading faster and cutting deeper than ever before, like threats to our security, privacy, fake news, and social media that becomes anti-social,” Cook said.

MIT President L. Rafael Reif (left) chats with Cook during the procession. (John Tlumacki/The Boston Globe)

Geoffrey Gilmore, who received his bachelor’s in computer science, will intern at a San Francisco startup. He said Cook’s advice about remembering humanity when developing technology was a huge sticking point for him.

“It’s easy to get lost and people forget about the consequences of their work. In almost every one of my engineering design classes, morality was a huge component,” Gilmore said.

He said that he chose to work at a startup instead of a behemoth, say, like Apple, because “it’s the easiest way to make your impact known” because you can add more value and actually be a part of building the company’s culture.

Serving the rest of the world

Given the fact that 30.62% of all MIT grads are international students, with nearly half of all graduate students coming from abroad, some are using their MIT degrees to give back to their communities.

Juan Lemus, a native of Colombia, received his master’s in finance this year. He will return to his home country to work as a senior associate of financial markets at Colombia’s central bank.

“People like me who grew up in emerging economies that are facing difficulties and struggles in life need to go back and share what they learned and help their societies,” he said.

“My degree not only provides me with leadership skills but also the ability to think about others and the privileged role that I have in society. I realize that I have to use my education to empower others and give a voice to those who don’t have a voice.”

Jun-mok Kim, who also received an MS in finance, echoed Lemus’ sentiment: “We have to serve humanity. Don’t think about what the other guys think about you. Think about how you can help the world.”

A native of South Korea, Kim will stay at MIT’s Global Center for Finance and Policy as a research fellow, investigating reverse mortgage products. He said that MIT gave him the ability to think quickly on his feet.

Staying nimble and adaptable

“The world is changing so fast. The guy who is surviving isn’t the one who is the strongest or the most intelligent. The guy who is best at adapting — he will survive. Being flexible is the most critical thing that I’ve learned here. We have to be agile about what’s going on in the market and the world,” Kim said.

Considering the unemployment rate hit a 16-year low and MIT is one of the most competitive schools in the world, the vast majority of grads have their pick when it comes to jobs. According to the school’s 2015 survey that it conducts with it graduating class, 89.1% of bachelor’s degree recipients accepted a position upon graduation.

Given our conversations with MIT graduates, it’s evident that many of them are already following Cook’s advice and using their degrees to give back to society.

Melody Hahm is a writer at Yahoo Finance, covering entrepreneurship, technology and real estate. Follow her on Twitter @melodyhahm.

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