Straight from Hickory, NC, with a heavy Southern drawl and a financial aid scholarship to his name, Chris Hughes ’02 restlessly began his time at Andover in pursuit of self-improvement.
His arrival marked the beginning of a rocky Andover career that often left him isolated and unhappy, yet also provided the lessons he would use later in life as a Co-Founder of Facebook, Director of Online Organizing on President Barack Obama’s 2008 Campaign and the current Editor in Chief and Publisher of “The New Republic.”
Hughes returned to campus on Wednesday to speak at All-School Meeting (ASM), where he shared the values that Andover taught him despite his struggles along the way.
“The reality is that I was not terribly happy while I was here at Andover, but 12 years later, I am more aware now than ever of the positive effect this place had on me. It didn’t make me happy, but it taught me that happiness isn’t everything. It exposed me to a wealth of ideas and provided me with a thirst for knowledge that I am always trying to quench,” said Hughes at ASM.
One memory of Andover played a pivotal role in Hughes’s life: the Andover directory, or the “Face Book.”
“[The Face Books] were spiral-bound, and Marc Zuckerberg [PEA ’02] said they used them [at Exeter] too. At that time, the Internet was not what it is today, and people would sit in dorm rooms flipping through what is essentially a directory with people’s ID photos, what year they were and where they were from,” said Hughes during a question-and-answer session following ASM.
The Face Books he and Zuckerberg used at their respective boarding schools inspired the concept of connections behind the multibillion-dollar social-networking site. After leaving Andover, Hughes attended Harvard where he met Zuckerberg and Dustin Moskovitz and co-founded Facebook, which now boasts over one billion users.
“I never really imagined that when we started it would touch the lives of hundreds of millions. I really started to see the power that came from a technological platform at this scale,” said Hughes.
After realizing the power technology had over the lives of others, Hughes channelled the power into something he cared deeply about. Formerly the President of the PA Democrats’ Club, Hughes left Facebook in 2006 to manage President Barack Obama’s online organizing campaign.
He was the brainchild behind “my.barackobama.com,” the online organizing tool that allowed grassroots supporters to connect and campaign through the Internet. His efforts and innovation helped Obama win the 2008 election. Following his success, “Fast Company” magazine called Hughes “The Kid Who Made Obama President.”
Hughes’ life, however, was not always so planned and polished. As a new Lower, he often felt lonely at Andover.
“There were brief moments of bonding with my roommate or dormmates, but those connections were so rare that they seemed like erroneous exceptions to months and months of silence,” said Hughes during ASM.
Despite his rough start, Hughes found the motivation within himself to pursue activities such as playing tennis and the piano, debating in Philomathean Society and writing for The Phillipian.
“I discovered something in me. I came out of those moments of solitude with a fierce effort to be better. I read, worked, studied at all hours of every day, in Garver, in my dorm room. I practiced the piano in the basement of Graves [Hall]. I forced myself into Philo, Model UN and wrote my first articles for The Phillipian. The more that I did, the more that I wanted to do. I would not allow myself to fail,” said Hughes during ASM.
Using the passion he found for journalism as News Director of The Phillipian, Hughes entered the journalism industry as the Publisher and Editor in Chief of “The New Republic,” a 100-year-old political and cultural magazine.
“I don’t think there’s any better way to discuss ideas, culture and politics. [Journalism] has a large potential to change our lives and the way we live for the better, and isn’t that what we’re trying to do in the first place? But the first geographical place that I started mulling this question what it is to live a meaningful life and what my path is and what I’m going to do was when I was in the same seats that [Andover students] are in now,” said Hughes during ASM.
While on campus early this week, Hughes also taught a master class with Head of School John Palfrey, sat in on a seminar with students from second-period philosophy and religious studies classes and joined Christopher Jones, Instructor in History’s History-310 class. He also visited The Phillipian’s newsroom and met with the Gender and Sexuality Alliance for dessert.