If I asked you what Oprah Winfrey, Bill Gates, Steve Jobs and Mark Zuckerberg have in common, you would be forgiven for giving an answer denoting their phenomenal success. A lesser known commonality is that before they embarked on their paths to fame and fortune, they all dropped out of college.
Mark Zuckerberg famously launched Facebook from his Harvard dorm room way back in February 2004 and went on to became one of the world's youngest self-made billionaires as his social media platform hit more than 1.9 billion active users.
This week, Zuckerberg returned to the dorm room where it all began to pick up his honorary degree. What he said in his graduation speech has created a virtual water cooler moment across the world.
Despite repeatedly insisting he has no desire to enter the world of politics, Zuckerberg replaced his trademark gray T-shirt for a suit to deliver a speech felt like a very carefully orchestrated campaign platform.
The statesmanlike speech was a game of political bingo: immigration, climate change, jobs, universal basic income, racism, and health care were all assiduously ticked off the list.
“Our generation will 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 together.”
Although we are only just beginning to understand the pros and cons of digital transformation, there is an increasing belief that we need to tackle the problems of tomorrow, today. If technology and automation decimate the employment landscape across all industries, we need to prevent social fallout, enabling the victims to cope.
With traditional jobs expected to disappear within “a decade or two,” Zuckerberg advised that we need to "not only create new jobs but create a new sense of purpose." Trendy think tanks are pointing to universal basic income to address impending issues by providing everyone a safety net of guaranteed money regardless of their employment status.
As the speech was streamed across Facebook to a global audience, the topic of "modernizing democracy so everyone can vote online," also seemed like a natural step for the tech leader. With a potential 1.9 billion constituents at his disposal, maybe the tech billionaire could soon dramatically change politics as we know 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 afford to pay off their loans, let alone start a business.”
Many struggling regions across the world are increasingly feeling left behind both economically and technologically. It is already easy to see the effects of the digital divide. Lack of access to the Internet, for one, afflicts billions, which has tremendous consequences on all manner of growth.
People are getting left behind left and right. In certain areas of society, jobs are thriving; while equally disappearing in others. For those hit hardest, their instincts force them to retreat and become insular, going back to their communities and pointing the finger at agents of change.
We should have a society that measures progress not just by economic metrics like GDP, but by how many of us have a role we find meaningful.
Maybe Zuckerberg was right when he said that "It is not a battle of nations, but of ideas." For any country to be successful in the digital age, they will need to upgrade their legacy mindset as well as their technology.
Zuckerberg praised students for accomplishing something he never could by graduating. However, the more Zuckerberg denies his political ambitions, the more the evidence seems to suggest that this college dropout turned tech billionaire might have one eye on the White House after all.
Wouldn't that be the ultimate story of the American Dream?
What did you think of Mark Zuckerberg’s graduation speech? Was he ticking all the right boxes to carefully build a political career?