'Very Presidential': Harvard alumni react to Mark Zuckerberg's speech

Julia La Roche
Reporter


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YAHOO! FINANCE PRESENTS: Mark Zuckerberg’s Commencement Address Up Close

Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg gave Harvard’s commencement speech this year. (Paul Marotta/Getty Images)

“I thought he was going to announce his presidential campaign, so that surprised me,” said Benjamin Pleat.

Pleat, who graduated from Harvard this year with a degree in economics, was talking about Facebook (FB) CEO Mark Zuckerberg who was the principal speaker at Harvard University’s 366th commencement ceremony on a rainy Thursday.

“I say, 2024, he’s got my vote,” he said.

Others agreed that the speech had political undertones.

An ‘icon’ for millennials

Michael Butler, who graduated with a degree in government, described Zuckerberg as “a great icon” for the millennial generation. He didn’t view the speech as political, but he sees the potential for Zuckerberg to run for office in the future.

“Zuckerberg is very influential, especially among our generation, and he’s very young, so he has a lot of time to run for office,” Butler said. “That will be the time when our generation is the one running things, so I definitely think he has the potential to run for office.”

Demetrios Julius, class of 1967, said he was “knocked out” by Zuckerberg’s speech.

“There’s probably things that I don’t agree with him on… but his delivery was amazing. He connected with the audience, the people here, and that’s his specialty,” Julius said. “Maybe it’s the start of something new for him.”

[YAHOO! FINANCE PRESENTS: Mark Zuckerberg’s Commencement Address Up Close]

But did Julius think it was presidential?

“Let’s not jump that far,” Julius said. “You’ve got to start somewhere in politics, but I don’t know. For a young guy like that, I thought it was pretty amazing.”

‘Borderline inauthentic’

“It seemed very much like a presidential speech,” said a Harvard alum, who wished to speak anonymously. The alum went on to compare Zuckerberg’s speech to former New York City Mayor Mike Bloomberg’s address in 2014.

“It was a very  similar type of speech where it basically sounded like a stump speech that we hear on the campaign trail, and he was bringing up people in the audience and people he had met.”

Mark Zuckerberg (Paul Marotta/Getty Images)

At the beginning of the year, Zuckerberg challenged himself to visit small towns and universities in every state. Some have speculated that he’s doing this to set the stage to run for office.

“That was all preparation for this [speech],” the alum said. “And this is all preparation for, like… it’s very clear what he’s doing.”

He found the speech to be “borderline inauthentic.”

“He’s not a particularly galvanizing speaker,” he added. “I love him as an entrepreneur and I think as an alum, he did an amazing job and the people in the audience clearly loved him. But as a platform for his future ambitions, it’s very clear, everyone on Twitter was like, ‘Hey, he’s running for president. Just come out and say it.'”

[YAHOO! FINANCE PRESENTS: Mark Zuckerberg’s Commencement Address Up Close]

A down-to-earth billionaire

Eugene Skowronski, class of 1965, was impressed with his naturalness and authenticity with the audience.

“He hardly looked at his speech,” Skowronski said, “I mean, he wrote it out very carefully, but he delivered it almost from memory. And, physically, he’s much younger, fitter, better looking, he’s just an amazing, all-around person.”

Agnes Igoye, who graduated with a master’s degree in public administration, was recognized by Zuckerberg during his speech for her work countering human trafficking in Uganda.

Agnes Igoye (Source: Harvard University / YouTube)

“That was really special. You never expect anything. When a speaker like Mark shouts out your name, that’s an honor.”

Zuckerberg had asked to connect with students who are making a difference. He chose Igoye after hearing her story.

“He’s such a humble person,” Igoye said. “When I met with him, [he’s] really down to earth. I’m not kidding. He would sit in the room, he doesn’t want you to sit apart from him. You sit together and it’s just like a conversation. When you meet him, it doesn’t feel like you’re meeting someone so rich or so important. It doesn’t even come up because the way he dresses — he came in a t-shirt. It was me who was overdressed!”

[YAHOO! FINANCE PRESENTS: Mark Zuckerberg’s Commencement Address Up Close]


Julia La Roche is a finance reporter at Yahoo Finance. Follow her on Twitter.

 

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