Tim Cook to Gen Zers: "My generation has failed you."


Baby Boomer Tim Cook made a frank admission to Generation Z, “In some important ways, my generation has failed you.” He made these remarks on May 18 at commencement exercises for Tulane University. You can watch Cook’s full remarks here.

Speaking in New Orleans, Cook said, “Here today, in this very place, where thousands once found desperate shelter from a hundred-year disaster--the kind that seem to be happening more and more frequently--I don’t think we can talk about who we are as people and what we owe to one another without talking about climate change.” He also said that his generation has been too divisive, stating, “We have spent too much time debating, we have been too focused on the fight, and not focused enough on progress.”

Like every good commencement speaker, Cook outlined challenges we presently face, offered starting points for possible solutions, and sought to inspire the next generation to do better than their predecessors. He encouraged action, listening, teamwork, and understanding. He also encouraged the graduates to be bold and cautioned against being too risk-averse, urging them to move forward and “build something better.”

Cook began with repentance, recognized the opportunity for a fresh start, and imparted wisdom and encouragement to a new, emerging generation. He gave a model commencement speech. But perhaps Cook’s words have applicability beyond a graduation ceremony.

Graduation ceremonies provide liminal moments, allowing people to transition from “student” to some kind of recognized “master.” A degree confers authority, the authority to say, “I have an education. I know stuff. I have skills. I’m capable.” These ceremonies also create the space where educators can say to former students, “Now, go into the world and apply what you have learned.”

Do churches create similar liminal spaces? We do in confirmation, baccalaureate services, and maybe in baptism. But do we routinely repent of our failings, name our shortcomings, and invite a new generation of leaders to step forward and help us to address the problems we have yet to solve?

I don’t know if we do. But we could. What if we had the humility to admit that we haven’t gotten everything right? What if we discipled, or educated young people in the Christian tradition in such a way that we expected them to go and apply what they had learned? What if we recognized our role as imperfect givers of wisdom, those who could impart the things we have gained in light of our failures? What if we encouraged younger generations to work and then supported them in their efforts?

Perhaps something would be different. Perhaps some of our problems would be addressed. Maybe new life would emerge. Maybe the Spirit would unleash new energy, a fresh wind, an unforeseen movement of the gospel.

There’s a chance. Maybe we should try it.