Andras S. ’15, an international student from Hungary

Harrisburg Academy students learn more than just facts — they participate in deep, authentic learning and graduate from the Academy with extensive problem-solving skills that can be applied to nearly any challenge or situation.  And many times, the use of these skills transcends the actual classroom. Ride along with two Harrisburg Academy seniors who headed to Washington, D.C. this past weekend with one goal in mind — meeting Tim Cook, CEO of Apple, who served as George Washington University’s commencement keynote speaker.  Against all odds, and with a little ingenuity (that we hope was fostered here at our school!), they made it happen.

I just met the world’s most influential businessman.  On Friday, my friend Alexander Z. ’15 texted me to say that Tim Cook – CEO of Apple – was giving a commencement speech at George Washington University on Sunday, and he asked me if I wanted to go with him to Washington, D.C. to hear his speech.  I immediately said yes, since I am fond of Apple devices and as a hobby, I have been developing applications for Apple devices for the last six years.  So on Sunday, we got up early and and drove to Washington, D.C.  During the drive, we discovered that we were both hoping to be able to meet Mr. Cook in person; however, we both knew that this wish was probably not going to be fulfilled.

Having arrived at the event, we were confronted with an enormously large crowd.  We were half an hour early, but tens of thousands of students and parents were sitting before the stage already.  We knew that proceeding through the normal entrance, we would only get a seat in the far back, where we would hardly see or hear anything of Tim’s speech.  Luckily, we found another – probably not official – way to get in, which led right to the front of the stage, where we got to enjoy his speech almost from the very best place.

Mr. Cook started his speech – after joking a little about Apple and non-Apple phones – telling a story about his childhood.  At the age of 16, he won an essay contest and was given the opportunity to meet the governor of Alabama, who was John Wallis at the time.  Gov. Wallis was an extreme segregationist, so – as Tim said –  “Meeting my governor was not an honor… Shaking his hands felt like a betrayal of my own beliefs.”  This experience led him to think about what’s right and wrong, and to think about good and bad decisions.  Also, in winning the essay contest, he got to meet Jimmy Carter, the president of the United States.  In his speech, Mr. Cook pointed out how humble and kind the president was.  While he came from the south, as did John Wallis, Carter presented completely different values and ideals.  Tim noted that shaking his hand felt like shaking the world’s best man’s hand.

Tim continued his speech, explaining what is important for him in life and how Steve Jobs [co-founder, former chairman and CEO of Apple] helped him to clearly understand that.  “I met someone [Steve Jobs] who made me question everything,” Mr. Cook said.  Steve made him realize that the dream to change the world is not impossible.  Furthermore, Steve showed him that with strong will and commitment one can achieve even the impossible.

Inspired by Mr. Cook’s speech, we decided to try to overcome the impossible and meet Tim personally.  We knew the location of the VIP tent, so right after his speech, we left the ceremony and walked there.  Then with commitment and patience, we were able to get to a place between the stage and the tent.  When the ceremony ended, and the VIP persons left the stage and headed for the tent; we were right there to meet Mr. Cook.  He greeted us with a friendly smile on his face.  We said a few words, took a picture, Alexander showed him his Apple Watch, I congratulated him on his speech, and we shook hands before I was pushed aside by the security persons.

And now I am writing down happily, just as Tim did it age of 16, that I also had the opportunity to shake hands with one of the greatest businessman at the age of 18.