Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg today urged college graduates to follow their sense of purpose and enable others in order to build a better world together. And yet, standing onstage at Harvard University in a crisp suit instead of the traditional hat and gown, Zuckerberg looked and sounded a lot more like a presidential candidate than a tech CEO.
Zuckerberg has denied interest in running for president of the United States before — most recently three days ago — but today he hit candidate talking points during the speech such as climate change, affordable health care, universal basic income, and talk of a “new social contract” as tech and automation swallow human jobs.
He even appeared to tear up a little bit at the end while telling the story of an undocumented immigrant he met with dreams of someday going to college. Perhaps the only thing missing was an American flag lapel pin.
On student debt:
Let’s face it: 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.
On income inequality and empowering entrepreneurs:
The greatest successes come from having the freedom to fail. Now today we have a level of wealth inequality that hurts everyone. When you don’t have the freedom to take your idea and turn it into a historic enterprise, we all lose, and right now today our society is way over-indexed on rewarding people when they’re successful and we don’t do nearly enough to make sure everyone can take lots of different shots.
On automation taking jobs:
Our generation is going to have to deal with tens of millions of jobs replaced by automation like self-driving cars and trucks but we have the potential to do so much more than that.
Rumors of a Zuckerberg 2020 campaign have been entertained for years, but the 2017 commencement speech at Harvard University comes the same week as the forming of the first Zuckerberg for president super PAC.
“This is the struggle of our time: The forces of freedom, openness, and global community against the forces of authoritarianism, isolationism, and nationalism,” Zuckerberg said. “Forces for the flow of knowledge, trade, and immigration against those who would slow them down. These are not battles between nations, it’s a battle of ideas.”
To give the world purpose, Zuckerberg advised Harvard grads to take three steps: Take on big, meaningful projects together; redefine our idea of equality; and build community.
Bill Gates made similar appeals to graduates last week when he encouraged them to get a job in AI but also to tackle inequity in the world and allow the lessons of the world into their hearts.
“I’m here to tell you that finding your purpose isn’t enough. The challenge for our generation is to create a world where everyone has a sense of purpose,” Zuckerberg said, adding that people alive today can cure disease, end poverty, and cope with the instability caused by artificial intelligence and automation.
Zuckerberg had words both for people who feel left behind by globalization and automation, as well as for undocumented immigrants. To achieve all the big projects, redefine equality, and give everyone purpose, Zuckerberg argues that people build community because “change starts local.”
“In our generation, the struggle of whether we connect more or achieve our greatest opportunities comes down to your ability to build communities and create a world where every single person has a sense of purpose,” he said.
Another piece of advice Zuckerberg had for graduates: Nobody knows what they’re doing when they start a big project. The important thing is to begin.
“Ideas don’t come out fully formed; they only become clear once you work on them. You just have to get started. If I had to know everything about connecting people before I got started, I never would have built Facebook,” he said.
“Movies and pop culture get this all wrong. The idea of a single eureka moment is a dangerous lie. It makes us feel inadequate, because we feel like we haven’t had ours yet, and it prevents people with seeds of good ideas from ever getting started in the first place.”
Though Zuckerberg famously dropped out of Harvard to build Facebook, today he was introduced as Dr. Mark Zuckerberg after receiving an honorary doctorate from the university.