Harvard dropout Mark Zuckerberg returned to the university Thursday to give graduates a commencement address, filled with calls for building a connected world “where every single person has a sense of purpose.”
In a wide-ranging speech that touched on climate change, charity, volunteering, education and universal basic income, the billionaire CEO of Facebook championed globalism and called fighting authoritarianism and nationalism “the struggle of our time.”
The address was the thematic opposite of much of President Trump’s speeches, with some saying that Zuckerberg “positioned himself as the anti-Trump.”
The 33-year-old Zuckerberg spoke of himself as a member of the same “millennial” generation as that of Harvard’s graduates. He talked about creating “big meaningful projects” and pursuing ideas, and said there’s no such thing as a single “eureka moment” of inspiration.
Zuckerberg called on graduates to help in “stopping climate change before we destroy the planet and getting millions of people involved manufacturing and installing solar panels.” He raised the possibilities of curing diseases, learning more about the human genome, personalizing education and voting online.
“We can fix this,” he said.
Other themes included wealth inequality: “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,” he said.
Zuckerberg and his wife Priscilla Chan have pledged to give away 99 percent of their shares in Facebook over the course of their lives. In late 2015, when they made the pledge, the shares were worth about $45 billion.
He said that people should “explore ideas like universal basic income to make sure that everyone has a cushion to try new ideas.”
That idea is gaining attention as more and more jobs become automated and economists worry about a future with a large number of unemployed workers. Zuckerberg is just one of many people in the tech industry floating the idea of paying everybody a basic income from the government, regardless of whether someone works or not.
In contrast to recent displays of nationalist rhetoric, Zuckerberg talked about how millennials identify themselves as “citizen[s] of the world” who have “grown up connected.”
“This is the struggle of our time,” he continued. “The forces of freedom, openness and global community against the forces of authoritarianism, isolationism and nationalism. Forces for the flow of knowledge, trade and immigration against those who would slow them down.”
Zuckerberg talked of building communities, and branded his efforts at expanding Facebook as “connecting one community at a time, and keeping at it until one day we connect the whole world.”
That’s one benevolent way of describing Facebook’s master plan.
Zuckerberg launched Facebook from his Harvard dorm in 2004, before dropping out to run the website. He joked, “If I get through this speech today, it’ll be the first time I actually finish something here at Harvard.” The school gave him an honorary degree Thursday, introducing him as “Dr. Mark Zuckerberg.”