Mark Zuckerberg’s Harvard commencement speech centered around how we can improve life through big projects, equal opportunity and building both local and global community. He outlined a plan “to create a world where every single person has a sense of purpose.”
Rather than focusing on the opportunities for the Harvard students graduating in front of him, he urged the students to ignite opportunities for those less fortunate. And instead of shying away from the fact that technology is creating new challenges for the underprivileged, he said we need to address head on automation’s impact on employment.
You can watch the replay of his speech here:
Zuckerberg dropped out of Harvard his sophomore year in 2004 to scale up Facebook as it rapidly grew. But today he was awarded an honorary Doctor of Laws degree, apparently to the delight of his parents, and became the youngest commencement speaker in Harvard’s history.
Today’s speech gave Zuckerberg a chance to speak directly to the world about the philosophy of building community that he outlined in his 6,000 word “humanitarian manifesto” letter he published earlier this year. He describes this purpose as Facebook’s new mission after spending more than a decade trying to make the world more “open and connected.”
To grow his understanding of how to build global community, Zuckerberg’s annual personal challenge for 2017 was to visit and meet new people in every U.S. state he hadn’t already visited. Many have described the similarity of his tour to how politicians “shake hands and kiss babies” as they campaign for election, stoking speculation that Zuckerberg might run for president of the United States. Zuckerberg has repeatedly denied this is his plan.
Yet with 1.8 billion users, Facebook’s citizenship dwarfs that of the U.S., and Zuckerberg’s choices directly impact the way people socialize, organize and do business every day. Perhaps getting to know a wider swath of those users in person so he can serve them through Facebook’s product is plenty reason for the cross-country trek. The empathy he’s developed on his trip shone through in the narrative of inclusiveness wound through his speech.
Finally, Zuckerberg believes that we need to foster a sense of community, both locally with our neighbors so we can build support networks for individuals, and between nations to unite the globe around giant collective problems like climate change.
“We get that our greatest opportunities are now global — we can be the generation that ends poverty, that ends disease. We get that our greatest challenges need global responses too — no country can fight climate change alone or prevent pandemics. Progress now requires coming together not just as cities or nations, but also as a global community.”
A survey found that millennials around the globe predominantly identify their generation as “citizens of the world,” but Zuckerberg stresses that change won’t be made at the U.N. Instead, Zuckerberg sees each generation expanding the circle of who we consider “one of us” by becoming secure enough to care about others.
Zuckerberg drew the battle lines, which squarely painted President Donald Trump on the other side of progress without naming him:
“We live in an unstable time. There are people left behind by globalization across the whole world. And it’s hard to care about people in other places, when we don’t first feel good about our lives here at home. There’s pressure to turn inwards. This is the struggle of our time. 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 that would slow them down.”
Perhaps the most important thing that came out of the speech was Zuckerberg’s maturing perspective of how all this progress will be made. While his manifesto repeatedly offered deeper connection through Facebook as the answer, Zuckerberg never mentioned specific parts of the app he built in today’s speech. Maybe he’s realized that a product’s impact is defined by the virtues of those who use it. There’s plenty to fix within Facebook. But each of us must decide how wide we care to spread our circle of inclusion and opportunity.The gravity of this fight seemed to wash over Zuckerberg near the end of the talk. The infamously stoic Zuckerberg began to tear up, describing how a high school student he mentored feared he couldn’t go to college because he’s an undocumented immigrant.