Mark Zuckerberg, founder of Facebook announced on Tuesday that he’ll be giving the commencement speech for Harvard University’s class of 2017 on May 25. Sitting beside him was Microsoft founder Bill Gates, another famous Harvard alum — technically. The thing is, neither Gates nor Zuckerberg actually bother to graduate from Harvard.
In the video, Zuckerberg bantered with Gates, who gave the 2007 commencement at Harvard (the year Zuckerberg’s wife, Priscilla, graduated). After May 25, both men will have a Harvard degree. But neither of them earned them in the normal fashion.
Gates dropped out in 1975 to co-found Microsoft, a decision he’s said he doesn’t regret. “It was unfortunate that I didn’t get to stay there, but I don’t think I missed any knowledge, because whatever I needed to learn, I was still in a learning mode,” he told Bloomberg in 2016 interview.
Zuckerberg, meanwhile, left in 2005 to work on Facebook. He said at the time, “I’m not coming back,” and he never did — as a student at least. He also began a trend at Facebook of hiring engineers who were fresh out of college, telling the Harvard Crimson that “the job lends itself to people with raw intelligence rather than industry experience.”
Both Gates and Zuckerberg should have been in the audience as students at one time, but never were. Instead, they’re living proof that such a degree isn’t always as people imagine it to be. It’s a reality very much in line with the views of other tech billionaires like Peter Thiel. The pair of tech moguls doesn’t shy away from addressing that irony in their brief conversation.
“They know we didn’t actually graduate, right?” Zuckerberg says.
“That is the best part,” says Gates. “You just put that degree on your resume and it looks great.” As if either one of them needs it now. Still, it seems oddly fitting that their past risks would be rewarded in this way.
The comments section of the video contains much goodwill for Zuckerberg, with viewers feeling excited about what his speech will be and expressing their admiration for his accomplishments.
“Two ways to get a Harvard degree — go to class or build a company that changes the world. I think both of you took the hard way. And we thank you for it!” says one commenter.
Another gave a more humorous take on the situation, writing, “Very good move to return to school Mark Zuckerberg. Studies show college graduates make more income than non-college grads, so who knows where this could go for you.”
It’s also worth noting that Zuckerberg and Gates are not alone in their status as successful Harvard dropouts. Others include actor Matt Damon, poet Robert Frost, and Edwin Land, the co-founder of the Polaroid Corporation. It’s been over ten years since Zuckerberg left. The real question is who the next big dropout is going to be.
Zuckerberg’s video ends with the text, “Tune in on May 25,” teasing his intention to share this moment via Facebook Live with the community of users who have gotten him where he is. In that way, the video is his way of saying thank you.