Like it or not, Mark Zuckerberg has become Mr. Harvard these days — thanks to Facebook and now to the film “The Social Network.” He has become the Bill Gates of our generation. And as we all know, Gates also attended Harvard as an undergraduate, only to drop out.
While “The Social Network” paints a unflattering portrait of Zuckerberg, it also demonstrates his incredible influence. When actor Jesse Eisenberg throws out crazy numbers on the silver screen, he is speaking the truth: Zuckerberg, valued at nearly $7 billion, is the youngest billionaire ever.
Of course, not everyone at Harvard aspires to become the next Zuckerberg. But a friend from Harvard said that certain circles of ambitious students view being “punched” by one of the Final Clubs, which are like all male versions of our secret societies, as their endgame at the university. Eric Tipler DIV ’12, a Harvard alum, said he felt that Harvard students are more driven to achieve individual success than Yale students are. So perhaps there is a Zuckerberg-esque streak among Cantabs.
If the Harvard Guy is an entrepreneur who throws his best friend under the bus for money, then who is the Yale Man? I like to think the Yale Man/Woman has a broader perspective than any Mark Zuckerberg. He/she clings to the integrity of “For God, For Country, For Yale.” He/she exhibits the patriotism of stoic Nathan Hale 1773.
One name comes to mind: Henry L. Stimson 1888. By the standards of old Yale, Stimson was the ideal student. He was elected to the Phi Beta Kappa Society and tapped by Skull and Bones. A loyal alum, he attended Yale commencements and reunions whenever he could.
Stimson’s Wikipedia page might not be as extensive as that of Mark Zuckerberg, but his accomplishments spanned two world wars. Aside from serving in the cabinets of the Taft and Hoover administrations, Stimson successfully managed the U.S. military during his tenure as Secretary of War in WWII. He fought as an army volunteer in his fifties and helped develop the US nuclear weapons program in his seventies.
Stimson was everything Zuckerberg is not. Stimson was a man of fierce loyalty; Zuckerberg was loyal to none except himself. Stimson rose to the top by working within the system; Zuckerberg revolted against his alma mater, against federal law, against the code of friendship. In short, Zuckerberg is a punk.
But I do not suggest Stimson is a saint. He played a large role in the decision to drop atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. For months leading up the bombings, Stimson daily contemplated the morality of nuclear warfare. Ultimately, he prevented the bombing of Kyoto, the ancient Japanese capital that housed priceless art and artifacts.
Zuckerberg and Stimson are both controversial characters who wield(ed) tremendous influence. But the motivation of the two couldn’t be any more different. Zuckerberg — at least as depicted in the movie — created Facebook to get the attention of a girl who broke up with him. Stimson contributed to the decision to drop atomic bombs because he wanted the US to win WWII.
Over the years, military and public service have lost their glitter in the eyes of Ivy Leaguers as the goals of students have become overly bourgeois. While many Yalies have gone into investment banking and consulting, the Yale Man/Woman has still clung to the spirit exhibited by Stimson. He or she is still very much a political animal interested in the powers of foreign policy, and war and peace. For instance, the Yale Political Union, the political science major and the “Studies in Grand Strategies” program are all popular among Yale students. Or just take a look at the “For God, For Country, For Yale” banners hung over the mantles of many a suite.
If he were alive today, Nathan Hale could have cared less about Facebook. But he certainly would have liked Twitter. #onelifetolose.