Mark Zuckerberg let his emotions overtake him in closing his commencement speech to Harvard grads of 2017 on Thursday, while recounting a conversation with a high school student who was an undocumented immigrant.
“He wasn’t sure if the country he calls home, the only one he’s known, was going to deny him his dream of going to college,” said the Facebook founder, who returned to Harvard to receive an honorary doctorate degree (he dropped out of school to focus on building his empire nearly 12 years ago).
“I can’t even say his name because I don’t want to put him at risk,” he added.
“Here is a young guy who has every reason to be cynical… (but) He wasn’t feeling sorry for himself. He has a greater sense of purpose.
“If a high school senior who doesn’t know what the future holds for him can do his part to move the world forward,” said Zuckerberg as he visibly held back tears, “we owe it to the world to do our part too.”
“Every generation expands the circle of who we consider one of us,” he concluded to applause.
Zuckerberg set a lighter tone earlier in the speech, exclaiming, “I love this place!,” before joking, “Let’s face it, you accomplished something I never could.”
His speech touched on a number of issues — including undocumented immigration, modernizing voting methods, and a universal basic income — but emphasized one topic in particular: how to “create a world where everyone has a sense of purpose.”
This was a lesson Zuckerberg said he found out “the hard way.” He told the audience about the early days of Facebook, where several companies wanted to buyout the budding social media empire. Several members of the Facebook braintrust wanted to sell, but Zuckerberg was vehemently against the idea.
“I believed in what we were doing, but I felt alone,” said Zuckerberg. “And worse, it was my fault — I wondered if I was just wrong, an imposter.”
Zuckerberg would prevail in not-selling the company, but his management team abandoned ship.
This moment highlighted for him the importance of fostering a “sense of purpose.” “…finding your purpose isn’t enough,” said Zuckerberg. “The challenge for us is to create a world where everyone has their own sense of purpose.”
Watch the full speech below: