Power Players

How nearly being expelled from Harvard led Mark Zuckerberg to meet the 'most important' person he knows

Priscilla Chan and Mark Zuckerberg at the White House on September 25, 2015.
Priscilla Chan and Mark Zuckerberg at the White House on September 25, 2015.

Before he famously dropped out in 2004, Mark Zuckerberg thought he might have to leave Harvard on much different terms.

"I had just launched this prank website Facemash, and the ad board wanted to 'see me.' Everyone thought I was going to get kicked out," Zuckerberg said in his 2017 Harvard commencement address.

His parents came to help him pack while his friends planned a going-away party. It turned out to be a much more memorable night than Zuckerberg could have predicted. While waiting in line for the bathroom at the party, the Facebook founder met Priscilla Chan, his future wife.

"In what must be one of the all-time romantic lines, I said, 'I'm going to get kicked out in three days, so we need to go on a date quickly," Zuckerberg recalled.

He didn't end up being expelled, but the two did end up dating. In a 2014 interview with TODAY'S Savannah Guthrie, Chan revealed how Zuckerberg admitted on their first date that he would rather go out with her than finish his take-home midterm, something she didn't find as sweet as he might have intended.

"The type-A first child in me was appalled," says Chan. "Turns out he was just trying to convince me to spend more time with him...and I've since learned that he's very bright."

Later, when the two began collaborating at Facebook, they realized they'd need to make time for both work and play, and Chan insisted on an agreement to ensure the couple would have a minimum of 100 minutes of time alone together each week, in addition to a weekly date night.

Zuckerberg had no objections. "When you're doing a partnership like this," he said in an interview with Quartz, "it's important to set aside time for your personal partnership."

Playing by the rules seems to have paid off. Today, 16 years after they met, the couple is married with two daughters. They are co-founders of the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative, which aims to use technology to solve problems in areas like health, science and education.

Zuckerberg isn't the only billionaire who understands the impact a romantic partnership can have. Warren Buffett has said that who you marry is the most important decision you'll ever make.

"You want to associate with people who are the kind of person you'd like to be," Buffett told Bill Gates during a 2017 conversation at Columbia University. "You'll move in that direction. And the most important person by far in that respect is your spouse. I can't overemphasize how important that is."

It's clear Zuckerberg knows how differently things could have turned out.

"Without Facemash, I wouldn't have met Priscilla," Zuckerberg said during the 2017 Harvard commencement ceremony. "She's the most important person in my life, so you could say it was the most important thing I built in my time here."

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