Tim Cook, CEO of Apple Inc., gave a shout-out to "the hardworking bartenders at The Boot," a favorite bar of Uptown college students, and reminisced about sojourns "of beignets and beer" in New Orleans when he was an Auburn University student in the 1980s, before focusing on climate change in his keynote speech at Tulane University's 2019 commencement ceremony in the Mercedes-Benz Superdome on Saturday morning.
Cook later spent nearly two hours across town at the Ellis Marsalis Center for Music, meeting with Ellis Marsalis and Harry Connick Jr., two of the center's founders, as well as students and faculty as he announced Apple's partnership with the center, including a donation of Apple products used to produce music in EMCM's studios, as well as software training.
"The center is an illustration of the unique creativity of this city," Cook said on the sidelines of his visit to EMCM. "New Orleans can be whatever it wants to be" in technology, especially leveraging its unique cultural heritage, he said about the city's ambitions to be a regional tech hub.
Cook listened to students play in the state-of-the-art, 150-capacity, acoustically engineered performance hall in the center, which was opened in 2011 after a lengthy effort to fund it as well as surrounding housing in the Musicians Village, in the Upper 9th Ward.
He also spent time with students, including Mateo Smith and Alejandera Dillos, who demonstrated their audio and video mixing efforts on computers Apple had donated.
"To have Tim Cook come here and be interested in our center is really monumental," said Connick. "This is a first step, and hopefully this will be the beginning of a long relationship."
Cook spoke briefly afterward about New Orleans' potential as a technology hub and the need for more diversity in the industry, including directing more funds to businesses run by people other than white men.
Cook, who was awarded an honorary Tulane doctorate along with civil rights leader and U.S. Rep. John Lewis, New York Times editor Dean Baquet and actress Blythe Danner, has said that he and Apple are not getting involved in politics, but are willing to speak out about policy.
The main policy theme on Saturday was climate change and the need to focus on facts and results rather than the debate.
"In some important ways, my generation has failed you in this regard," Cook told the graduates. "We’ve spent too much time debating. We've been too focused on the fight, and not focused enough on progress."
He noted research by Tulane Ph.D. candidate Molly Keogh that showed that rising sea levels are devastating areas of southern Louisiana more dramatically than anyone expected.
"These are people’s homes. Their livelihoods. The land where their grandparents were born, lived and died," Cook said.
"When we talk about climate change, or any issue with human costs — and there are many — I challenge you to look for those who have the most to lose — and find the real, true empathy that comes from something shared. ... When you do that, the political noise dies down, and you can feel your feet firmly planted on solid ground."