Here’s something Harvard students might “like.” Mark Zuckerberg, Facebook founder and iconic dropout of the storied Cambridge university, is returning to offer words of wisdom to this year’s graduating class.
Zuckerberg, who famously left Harvard to pursue building the social networking platform that now boasts nearly 2 billion users worldwide, will be the featured speaker during the school’s 366th commencement ceremony, on May 25.
“Few individuals can rival Mark Zuckerberg in his drive to change our world through the innovative use of technology, as well as his commitment to advance science, enhance education, and expand opportunity through the pursuit of philanthropy,” Harvard president Drew Faust said in a statement Tuesday. “I greatly look forward to welcoming Mark back to Harvard on Commencement Day.”
Harvard released a hammy video featuring Zuckerberg and Bill Gates, another Harvard dropout who started a tech revolution, talking about Zuckerberg’s invitation.
“They know we didn’t actually graduate, right?” Zuckerberg asks Gates, who spoke at commencement in 2007.
A New York native, Zuckerberg graduated from Phillips Exeter Academy in New Hampshire before eventually enrolling at Harvard in 2002.
During his sophomore year, while living in Kirkland House, one of the undergraduate dorms, he created “thefacebook.com” with a group of friends. The project started as an exclusive online platform for Harvard students to connect but quickly ballooned, drawing Zuckerberg to California to expand the business that would become a multibillion dollar enterprise. (Around $370 billion, to be exact).
While Harvard has certainly basked in Zuckerberg’s success, and claimed the prestige of being the birthplace of Facebook, the innovator wasn’t always a welcomed presence on campus.
Before launching the first version of Facebook, Zuckerberg was called before the school’s Administrative Board for creating “facemash.com,” a website that pooled images of students on campus and allowed users to rate the photographs based on a person’s physical appearance, according to Harvard Crimson.
He was accused at the time of violating students’ privacy and breaching school security.
The heady dorm room days of the company and Zuckerberg’s run-in with university officials were portrayed in the Oscar-winning movie, “The Social Network.”
On Tuesday, Zuckerberg wrote on his Facebook timeline that he was, “Finally heading back to school.”
At the young age of 32, the entrepreneur-philanthropist is the sixth-richest person in the world, with a net worth of $44.6 billion, according to Forbes magazine last year. (Gates is the richest person in the world, with $75 billion.) Zuckerberg has been named one of Vanity Fair’s “top 100 most influential people of the Information Age” and one of Forbes’ 10 most powerful people in the world.
Zuckerberg’s departure from Harvard to Palo Alto, Calif., a startup haven, to nurse his company has long left a sting in the Boston area.
In recent years, the region has become a hotbed for innovation as city and state leaders have doubled down on trying to persuade entrepreneurs and students graduating from the area’s many colleges and universities to stick around.
Although Facebook has been called “the one that got away,” the company returned to its roots when it opened an engineering office in Kendall Square in 2013.
Martin Grasso, Harvard Alumni Association president, said in a statement that few people understand the “power of connection” and the importance of creating community as well as Zuckerberg. He added that for alumni and students, it will be an opportunity to hear from a transformative figure.
Steve Annear can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.