Facebook’s Zuckerberg goes back to Harvard and takes a victory lap
Mark Zuckerberg never graduated Harvard. But the Facebook founder decided to return to the school to give this year’s commencement address. He dropped out 12 years ago to focus on Facebook, now the world’s largest social networking company.
“Let’s face it, you accomplished something I never could,” Zuckerberg told the graduates. “If I get through this speech today, it’ll be the first time I actually finish something here at Harvard.”
Zuckerberg followed another famous Harvard dropout, Bill Gates, who spoke before its graduates a decade ago. Steve Jobs, who dropped out of Reed College in Oregon, gave Stanford’s commencement speech in 2005.
The 33-year-old tech founder of Facebook said he would never have been able to risk leaving the elite Ivy League school if he had not known that his family would have been able to support him if he failed.
“There is something wrong with our system when I can leave here and make billions of dollars in ten years when millions of students can’t afford to pay off their loans, let alone start a business,” Zuckerberg told the crowd.
“When you don’t have the freedom to take your idea and turn it into a historic enterprise we all lose,” said Zuckerberg, who was also named an honorary doctor of laws. He offered no specific solutions to the problems he highlighted, but urged graduates to contemplate them.
Zuckerberg started Facebook in his Harvard dorm room in 2004. He also met his wife, Priscilla Chan, there. He said in his speech that his “best memory” at Harvard was meeting Chan.
“I had just launched this prank website Facemash, and the ad (administrative) board wanted to ‘see me,” said Zuckerberg, who is normally very tight-lipped about his personal relationships. “Everyone thought I was going to get kicked out. My parents drove up here to help me pack my stuff. My friends threw me a going-away party. Who does that? As luck would have it, Priscilla was at that party with her friends. And we met in line for the bathroom in the Pfoho Belltower (a dorm), and in what must seem like one of the all-time most romantic lines, I turned to her and said: ‘I’m getting kicked out in three days, so we need to go on a date quickly.’”
Zuckerberg spoke about the founding of Facebook, telling the graduates that “ideas never come fully formed… if I had to know everything about connecting people before I got started, I never would have built Facebook.”
He didn’t just talk about Facebook; he also touched on political tones. He said there is “something wrong with our system when I can leave here and make billions of dollars in 10 years while millions of students can’t even afford to pay off their loans, let alone start a business” and also addressed economic inequality.
“We should explore ideas like universal basic income to make sure that everyone has a cushion to try new ideas,” Zuckerberg said. “We’re all going to change jobs and roles many times, so we need affordable child care to get to work and health care that’s not tied to one employer.”
The event was livestreamed on Harvard’s website and on Zuckerberg’s Facebook page. A day before, Zuckerberg and Chan live-streamed a video from Zuckerberg’s old dorm room on his Facebook page.
Since its launch in 2004, Facebook has inspired a host of competitors, including Twitter and Snapchat. Today some 1.9 billion people use Facebook each month. Its broad reach has made the company a lightning rod for controversy, most recently for the ways that producers of fake news stories used it to influence public opinion during the 2016 US presidential election, and for a pair of incidents last month in which users posted videos of two murders, one of them live.
PH: Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg stands to receive an honorary Doctor of Laws degree during the 366th Commencement Exercises at Harvard University – Reuters