Boston - Mark Zuckerberg, one of Harvard University’s most famous dropouts, is
returning to campus on Thursday to deliver a commencement address and
finally get a degree – if only an honorary one.
Facebook co-founder shares his wisdom, the Boston area is also
trying to learn its own lesson from the Zuckerberg saga: how to get
tech-minded students to stay put in the first place.
Zuckerberg’s much-anticipated visit demonstrates a harsh reality for
the region. Boston may call itself the Hub (of the universe, that is).
But it’s more of a tongue-in-cheek moniker because everyone knows it
isn’t so – certainly not in the tech world.
The young, as ever, head West. Zuckerberg, who grew up in New York’s
suburban Westchester County, left Harvard after two years in 2004. He
moved to Silicon Valley to launch Facebook, based on a venture he
started as an undergraduate.
Zuckerberg is now the world’s fifth-richest person, with a $64.2bn fortune, according to the
Bloomberg Billionaires Index. The world’s richest human,
Bill Gates, dropped out of Harvard in 1975, the same year he
co-founded Microsoft. (He got his own Harvard honorary degree in
Harvard attracts students from all over the world, and it’s no easy
feat to keep the tech-minded nearby, according to
Jeffrey Bussgang, a Harvard graduate and venture capitalist at Flybridge
Capital Partners in Boston. He started a seed fund, called The Graduate
Syndicate, specifically to invest in startups by recent Harvard
“I hope to find the next Zuckerberg,” Bussgang added.
In 2010, Boston promoted a fast-developing seaport area – once a vast
swath of parking lots – as its “Innovation District”. Thrilling
General Electric in 2016 relocated its headquarters there from
Fairfield, Connecticut. Cambridge, the Boston suburb that is home to
Harvard, is also a major centre for biotechnology, including the
Genzyme and Biogen.
For its part, Harvard is celebrating Zuckerberg, without dwelling too
heavily on his defection after leaving the school to live in Palo Alto,
California, home of rival Stanford University. Sadly, for Harvard, that
meant Facebook is based in nearby Menlo Park, not Cambridge.
“Zuckerberg originally intended to return to Harvard, but the
immediate success of the enterprise led him to devote his full energy to
the company,” the university said in a release announcing his naming as
In a recent appearance on Bloomberg Television, Harvard President
Drew Faust called Zuckerberg’s return “a great moment for everybody to
celebrate him and to remind ourselves of the many ways in which we have
been innovators and will continue to be innovators”.
Given Zuckerberg’s departure from Harvard, “we” might be a bit of a
stretch. For its part, Harvard understands it could be more electrifying
to the tech-minded. Harvard has opened three entrepreneur-focused
centres in recent years, including the Innovation Lab, which is
dedicated to student tech entrepreneurs. Zuckerberg was clearly in mind.
As I-Lab Managing Director Jodi Goldstein said in a 2015 interview with Quartz: “Students don’t need to drop out now.”
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