The holder of three MIT degrees — a bachelor’s in electrical engineering and computer science, a bachelor’s in mathematics, and a master’s in electrical engineering and computer science — Khan left his job as a hedge fund analyst to found the Khan Academy, whose library of nearly 3,000 homemade videos offers viewers a wide variety of lessons in mathematics and the sciences. The Khan Academy’s YouTube channel has more than 227,000 followers.
“Sal Khan has been a remarkable global ambassador for science and mathematics education,” MIT President Susan Hockfield says. “He has reached millions of people around the world with his lucid and engaging online lectures. I can think of few people better positioned to show our Class of 2012 how a young MIT alumnus can take a big idea and change the world with it. I am delighted that he will share his story, and his wisdom, with our graduates.”
Khan was president of MIT’s Class of 1998. While at the Institute, he was the recipient of a Peter J. Eloranta Summer Undergraduate Research Fellowship, which he used to develop web-based math software for children with ADHD.
“My years at MIT were some of the best of my life,” Khan says. “It is the magical place where I was inspired by and bonded with the most fun, creative and passionate people I know — including my wife. I consider it the highest of honors to be able to speak to such an amazing group of people on such an important day. I hope that I’ll be able to help the graduating students fully appreciate the magnitude of the potential that they will be bringing into the world.”
“Sal Khan is a great match for MIT,” says Undergraduate Association President Allan Miramonti ’13. “His work has helped countless students of all ages learn in a new way. He has taken a simple concept, making YouTube videos, and turned it into a cutting-edge way to teach people. When I look at his ability to teach and share knowledge with the world, I find his values to be in line with our own.”
“Sal’s story of leaving his lucrative job in finance behind in pursuit of a greater calling is also inspiring,” says Nate Fox, president of the Class of 2012. “Many of us often talk about that crazy dream of ours, that one thing we’d love to do if money didn't matter. Sal is a man who not only left money to pursue his dream, but has succeeded in creating something truly remarkable: a free world-class education to anyone with a basic Internet connection.”
A Bangladeshi-American born and raised in New Orleans, Khan began tutoring his young cousin, Nadia, in mathematics over the Internet in 2004. As friends and relatives began clamoring for wider access to his lectures, Khan started posting them on YouTube in 2006.
Khan’s online lectures have become overwhelmingly popular; each has been viewed, on average, tens of thousands of times. The demand for his online lectures, and testimonials in support of them from students around the world, led him to quit his job at a hedge fund in 2009 to focus full time on his YouTube channel, by then known as the Khan Academy.
Khan has described his goal as “changing education for the better by providing a free world-class education to anyone anywhere.” The Khan Academy is now a nonprofit with significant backing from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and Google. All of its materials, lectures and resources are available to users worldwide, free of charge.
“Sal’s dedication to giving freely of his education holds special resonance at MIT,” says Chancellor Eric Grimson, who has long served on the Commencement Committee. “When the Institute launched OpenCourseWare 10 years ago, we knew that we weren’t alone in wanting to share our knowledge with the world. It is thrilling to see one of our own graduates give that impulse such a wonderful shape, and I’m excited to hear Sal speak to the next class poised to make its mark on the world.”
Khan joins a notable list of guest speakers at recent MIT Commencements, including Xerox CEO Ursula Burns (2011), Raymond S. Stata ’57, chairman and co-founder of Analog Devices Inc. (2010), Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick (2009), Nobel Peace Prize winner Muhammad Yunus (2008), MIT President Emeritus Charles M. Vest (2007) and alumnus and Federal Reserve Bank Chairman Ben Bernanke (2006).