Apple CEO Tim Cook came from Silicon Valley to the nation’s capital on May 17 to tell the George Washington University Class of 2015 that if they dream big and work hard, they can make the world a better place.

“The world needs you. … There are problems that need to be solved, injustices that need to be ended,” he said.

Tucked into Cook’s inspiring commencement address was a coming-ofage story that involved NRECA and a local electric co-op. It was 1977TimCook_Commencement, and Cook was a 16-year-old high school junior living in the small Gulf Coast town of Robertsdale, Ala.

He had won an essay contest that put him on a bus bound for the Rural Electric Youth Tour to Washington, D.C., representing Baldwin County EMC in Summerdale.

“I can’t remember what the essay was about. What I do remember very clearly is writing it by hand, draft after draft after draft,” he said. “Typewriters were very expensive, and my family could not afford one.”

The first stop on the tour was the state capitol in Montgomery, where the teens met with Governor George C. Wallace—“the same George Wallace who, in 1963, stood in the schoolhouse door at the University of Alabama to block African-Americans from enrolling,” Cook reminded his audience.

It was a painful experience for the young man because his heroes were Martin Luther King Jr. and Bobby Kennedy. But the pain lifted a few days later when President Jimmy Carter greeted the 900 Youth Tour delegates, from all across the country, on the South Lawn of the White House.

“I was one of the lucky ones who got to shake his hand,” Cook said. “Carter saw Baldwin County on my nametag and stopped to speak with me. He wanted to know how people were doing after the rash of storms that struck Alabama that year.

“I had come face to face with two men who guaranteed themselves a place in history,” he continued. “They came from the same region. They were from the same political party. They were both governors of adjoining states. But they looked at the world in very different ways. It was clear to me that one was right, and one was wrong.”

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