Of Apple and Facebook

Of Apple and Facebook

Of Apple and Facebook
By Atty. Myles Nicholas G. Bejar, University General Counsel

(Speech delivered during the Graduation Exercises of the High School Department on March 27, 2015 at the Claire Isabel McGill Luce Auditorium.)

Graduating students, parents, members of the University administration, faculty and staff, ladies and gentlemen – good afternoon. First, I’d like to thank Silliman University and its School of Basic Education for giving me the honor of addressing this year’s high school graduating class.

When I received the invitation to be the graduation speaker, I started thinking about my own high school graduation some 32 years ago.

Except for our class song, which I still remember because I fell from the top of the risers during a rehearsal, I can not remember who our graduation speaker was and what he or she talked about. I then asked the young lawyers in my office about their high school graduations, and they too could no longer remember who the speakers were and the messages extended to them.

A graduation speaker is supposed to share experience, values and advice to the graduating students. Making the students understand and remember what is shared to them is obviously a difficult task and for a second, I thought about declining the invitation. But as a lawyer I have been trained not to back down from challenges, and so I am here before you today to deliver a message that will hopefully inspire you to start thinking differently as you proceed with life after high school.

As I was thinking of what to speak about today, I remembered a survey that I had come across a few weeks back that had been conducted among high school students in the United States relating to celebrity entrepreneurs that they admired most. Two names were consistently on the top of the list: the late Steve Jobs of Apple and Mark Zuckerberg of Facebook.

It immediately dawned on me that I could never go wrong speaking about founders of Apple and Facebook to this year’s high school graduating class.

Apple is the most valuable company in the world and is known for developing great technologies that have changed how people learn and live. It produces operating systems and devices that are sought after by millions of people worldwide for their utility, ease of use, and quality. Many of our high school students own or would want to own an iPhone, iPad, iMac, Macbook, and the soon to be released Apple Watch.

Facebook is the world’s largest social network, with more than 1 billion users worldwide. I would bet that everyone in this year’s graduating class has a Facebook account.

Coincidentally, three weeks ago, I had the rare opportunity to attend an executive briefing for educators at Apple headquarters in Cupertino, California and see the offices of Facebook at nearby Menlo Park. I also saw the house of Steve Jobs.

In the headquarters, you get the feel of how much Apple encourages creativity, ingenuity and individuality among their personnel. They seem to highlight the need for you to be yourself, for you to “Think Different”; but they do so in a way where they are pulled towards a central mission of creativity for the greater good.

At Apple headquarters in Cupertino, big pictures of Steve Jobs adorn the walls inside the company’s buildings. During his lifetime, he was asked how he saw life and why he founded Apple. He said:

When you grow up, you tend to get told that the world is the way it is and your life is just to live your life inside the world, try not to bash into the walls too much, try to have a nice family, have fun, save a little money. That’s a very limited life. Life can be much broader, once you discover one simple fact, and that is that everything around you that you call life was made up by people that were no smarter than you. And you can change it, you can influence it, you can build your own things that other people can use. Once you learn that, you’ll never be the same again.”

That is maybe the most important thing. It’s to shake off this erroneous notion that life is there and you’re just going to live in it, versus embrace it, change it, improve it, make your mark upon it.”

Mark Zuckerberg had a shorter but complementary answer when he was asked his purpose for founding Facebook. He said:

“My goal was never to just create a company. A lot of people misinterpret that, as if I don’t care about revenue or profit or any of those things. But what not being ‘just’ a company means to me is building something that actually makes a really big change in the world.”

Many of us may find truth in what Steve Jobs said. When I was growing up, it was indeed common for parents to tell their children that the world is the way it is and you just live your life inside the world. Many of the greats in our time – the great men and women in politics, economics, public service, science and technology and many others – may likely have been no different. Theirs was a world which was impressed on them by their parents as one that is very much constrained to what meets the eye.

And the same is true today. What we see is what we get – or so it seems. There is so much poverty going on; controversies left and right are shaking up the concept of truth and justice; and the age of social media has seen the rise of what can be higher value placed on one’s self. And so we think this is exactly that world that we need to adjust to, to become a part of.

Realistically, there is nothing wrong with thinking of yourself. You really have to. You need to develop an idea of who you are, of what you want to do, of what to become 5, 10 or 50 years from now. Being able to reflect on yourself is necessary in you being able to tap into your own potential and test the limits of your talents and skills.

Steve Jobs and Mark Zuckerberg – were individuals who went deeper into themselves. At some point in their lives, they drew strength from their full appreciation of the extent to which they can develop something.

In the case of Mark Zuckerberg: It could have been his fascination with computer programming as early as middle school, and one supported through college at Harvard with his own father providing him with a tutor, that formed his concept of self.

In the case of Steve Jobs: It may have been his knowledge of him being an adopted child that developed within him a superior mental capacity that continually broadened the horizon, leading to the birth of Apple in his family’s garage.

If we transport ourselves to the time when they were still a “nobody”, how do you think we would react upon learning about what they were busy with? Would we have thought Jobs and Zuckerberg were geniuses?

The same may be true to you at some point in your life. You had a grand idea. You’re ready to present it. You are convinced that it is going to work. So you approach your friend or your family or your teacher. You share your idea with so much excitement. Then you hear from them:

“What has gotten into you?” “How sure are you that it will work?” “That’s a crazy idea.”

These are simple lines that are so short yet very powerful. They can make or break your self-confidence. They can make you believe that you have actually wasted time being excited in developing the idea that has now been clouded in doubt. At best, you would likely console yourself with a “Better luck next time”. At worst, you would surrender and give up on being able to spark that light bulb in your head.

Steve Jobs and Mark Zuckerberg were exactly those people. While some people knew they made sense, there was great distrust in what they could do with their ideas. They were branded foolish. Not many believed in them.

Mark Zuckerberg, while he had a happy childhood, initially suffered a big blow in his life when the computer program that served as his inspiration for Facebook was shut down for being deceptive, violative of privacy, and for clogging up access to the internet network in Harvard. He was called a “hacker”, and was known for his conviction that “It is OK to break things” “to make them better”.

Steve Jobs was not also an instant sensation. While the products of his ingenuity have registered for the technology world the highest sales ever, he had a hard time marketing them early in his life. But just when he was picking up momentum, and was already raking in billions for the company that he co-founded, his management style just did not blend well with fellow executives and the employees. He was voted out of the company although he was eventually asked to return. His initial adversity at Apple did not stop him though. He chased his dreams and founded the animation company Pixar, which was later bought by Disney. Pixar brought to our homes animated films like “Toy Story” and “Finding Nemo” and “The Incredibles”.

You see. The life stories of Mark Zuckerberg and Steve Jobs echo to a certain extent a phase or two of our own life stories. Everything in our life is not a bed of roses. You may have experienced one way or another failing an exam, getting injured, missing a deadline, or nursing a broken heart. They are painful and hard. But while they reveal to us our weaknesses, they can also be our very source of strength.

This is exactly what has distinguished Mark Zuckerberg and Steve Jobs: Their ability to transform hardships into success. They did not allow themselves to be weighed down by doubt. The attack against their ideas, the question on their capabilities, the doubt on the practicality and doability of their plans and inventions spiced up the journey and made them realize all the more that they were on the right path.

Note though that both were sustained by an intention that did not only involve themselves. The viral desire for connectivity and the constant struggle to optimize technology were all done with a realization of the world that they live in. But it was a realization that did not end at merely seeing the world revolve right before their eyes; it was more a realization marked by their desire to act, to do something about what was needed, and to make the world a better place to live in.

Mark Zuckerberg’s Facebook has drawn a billion people together. It has bridged divides, reconnected families and friends. It has become an avenue for redress, social action, and community empowerment. It has become a tool that facilitates cultural understanding, a creative expression of one’s self and interest, and a glue that binds us as an extended network of common interest. What may have started as a product of the sheer curiosity of one is now the key to the world of the global population of billions.

Steve Jobs’ concern for products that constantly break the glass ceiling of technology was one born of a conscious dedication to make technology work at its premium down to the household and individual level. Your iPhones, iPads, iMacs were designed to make more convenient the way we live life in a manner that recognizes the value of relationships. Like his adoptive parents were to him, he may have wanted his products to be like a home to just about anyone in need of a reassurance of their value and significance in the world with a click away.

All two are accomplished. And if there is one commonality that serves as the hinge of their individual successes it is the extent to which they have viewed themselves in relation to others. It is that conscious effort to make a difference not for themselves but for the world. It is that commitment to live a life of service and one that benefits a much larger community than their own. They pushed ahead and against the odds because they knew that what they wanted to do was not for them alone but for millions and billions of people. They were afraid not to fail and fail again because what they had before them was a picture of a world that they needed to do something about.

As you move into college, ask yourself two things:

  • First: “What is it that I am best at?”
  • Second: “With what I am best at, what can I do for others and the community the most?”

Your answers to these questions will help you narrow down your choices on the right course for you. It will also remind you of what you are in the world for, and will help you live a life of purpose and meaning. It will empower you to draw out your interest, pursue them and conquer all that come your way, in the same breath as Marck Zuckerberg and Steve Jobs.

While you might have a vibrant life now and a rather carefree spirit, remember to make all your decisions for the right reasons and with full knowledge of its consequences. In every decision you make, always find yourself a step farther by reflecting on what such decision would make of you as a person and as a member of the community. Reflect on what you will become of it not just today but in the days ahead. Try asking yourself if the same decision would bring you fulfillment up to that day when you know it is already your last in this world.

Steve Jobs once said that in weighing his options, he would everyday ask himself in front of the mirror the question: “If today were the last day of my life, would I want to do what I am about to do? And whenever the answer is NO in too many days in a row, I know I need to change them.”

Confront yourself everyday in your life with the question on what you would do if it were your last day in this world. Don’t think of your last day in the context of what you have not done yet or what you have been so afraid of doing. Think of it in relation to how you are about to live your life more and if whether that will bring you real joy and genuine fulfillment from this day onward.

Dare yourself to do more than what others say you can do. Dare yourself to break your misconceptions about your capabilities. Dare yourself to prove to yourself that you can do better and much more. And dare yourself to be that small spark of hope from which others can see a brighter tomorrow.

As you move into a new phase in life and soar higher, never ever lose grounding in your values and your faith in the Lord. Learn to be humble. Learn to be grateful. And learn to see your life in relation to others.

Congratulations to all of you! This is an achievement that you must share with your parents and your family who are in the audience today. Once this ceremony is over, hug them and thank them – you will never know what that means to them until you step into their shoes someday.

A pleasant afternoon too all.