NEW YORK — Facebook’s CEO returned to Harvard Thursday, telling graduates that it is up to their generation to create a purpose for today’s world, to care about others, to fight inequality and strengthen the global community.
‘‘Change starts local. Even global changes start small — with people like us,’’ Mark Zuckerberg said after sharing anecdotes about graduates like David Razu Aznar, a former city leader who led the effort to legalize gay marriage in Mexico City, and Agnes Igoye, who grew up in conflict zones in Uganda and now trains law enforcement officers.
‘‘And this is my story too. A student in a dorm room, connecting one community at a time, and keeping at it until one day we can connect the whole world,’’ said the 33-year-old billionaire, who received an honorary doctorate degree on Thursday, 12 years after dropping out of Harvard to focus on Facebook.
Zuckerberg, who like the graduates is a millennial, started Facebook in his dorm room in 2004. What began as a closed networking site for Harvard students is now a global communications force with nearly 2 billion members.
Zuckerberg follows another famous Harvard dropout, Bill Gates, who spoke before its graduates a decade ago. Apple co-founder Steve Jobs, who dropped out of Reed College in Oregon, gave Stanford’s commencement speech in 2005, reminding students to ‘‘stay hungry, stay foolish.’’
Besides launching Facebook, Zuckerberg also met his wife, Priscilla Chan, at Harvard. Chan went on to become a pediatrician. Together, the two formed the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative, a philanthropic organization focused on advancing science and education. They have also pledged to give away 99 percent of their massive wealth.
On Thursday, Zuckerberg received an honorary doctoral degree from the university, along with nine other people including the actress Judi Dench, the composer John Williams (known for ‘‘Star Wars,’’ ‘'Harry Potter’’ and many other scores) and Somali human rights activist and physician Hawa Abdi Dhiblawe.
‘‘If I get through this speech today it'll be the first time I actually finish something here at Harvard,’’ Zuckerberg said. He did.