When Khan Academy Founder Salman Khan first arrived at Harvard Business School’s Spangler Center 13 years ago, he had to confirm whether or not he had stepped into a five-star hotel or the student center. More, he was in class, studying alongside Taiwanese pop stars, Navy seals, Olympic athletes and brain surgeons.
“In my current life, I’m asked a lot about the role of the physical classroom,” said Khan on Wednesday to Harvard Business School’s Class of 2014. “This is what all schooling should be about. … HBS is a transformative experience because of your fellow classmates. You’re as good as the people you surround yourself with and you will never be immersed with so many people who will push you to be better.”
The founder spoke to MBA candidates as part of the institute’s annual pre-commencement Class Day ceremony. Prior to attending the Ivy League graduate school, Khan earned three degrees from MIT — two bachelor’s degrees, one in mathematics and another in computer science and electrical engineering, as well as a master’s in electrical engineering.
After a brief stint in hedge fund management, Khan quit his job to focus on building out Khan Academy, a nonprofit educational website featuring 5,500 instructional videos and 100,000 practice problems for a variety of topics, ranging from math and economics to physics and biology. The platform currently reaches 10 million students from 200 countries every month, serving as a symbol of the organization’s mission: To provide “a free world-class education for anyone, anywhere.”
What began as a way for Khan to tutor his cousins in math remotely turned into a nonprofit worthy of a $2 million grant from Google and a $1.5 million grant from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. The success inspired Khan to ask the graduating class, “What happens when some of the most skilled, powered, energetic people on the planet, i.e. you, decide to rip those blinders off?”
He encouraged graduates to think of the bigger picture and on a larger scale. “Incremental progress is important,” Khan said, “but don’t shy away from dreaming of great leaps and then using your skills and influence to make them happen.”
While at HBS, Khan claimed the “90 complete strangers from all over the planet” in his section grew to become his family. The beauty of the School’s case method instruction was that faculty “were not lecturers, but dynamic, well-dressed facilitators of conversations,” and that peers were able to complete each other’s thoughts.
As HBS’s Class of 2014 goes to graduate, no matter what field they enter, whether technology or finance, Khan urged this:
When you surrender yourself to an idea or principle bigger than yourself ? regardless of the field ? your soul will feel nourished and the universe will work in your favor.
For more from Harvard Business School’s Class Day ceremony, click here.
Featured Image via @KathrynAndersen