Entrepreneur, CS Grad Max Levchin to Deliver Commencement Address
Max Levchin, whose journey from Ukrainian emigrant to computer scientist and entrepreneur passed through the halls of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, will serve as the campus’s commencement speaker Saturday, May 12. The ceremony is 9:30 a.m. in Memorial Stadium.
A co-founder of the worldwide online payments system PayPal, former chairman of the board of crowd-sourced reviewer of local businesses Yelp and currently the CEO and founder of the consumer-financing platform Affirm, Levchin graduated from the U. of I. in 1997 with a B.S. in computer science.
“We’re extremely proud to have Max Levchin as the 2018 commencement speaker,” Chancellor Robert Jones said. “He is an inspiring entrepreneur and innovator, and he has had great success in changing the lives of millions of people through his work with PayPal, Yelp and Affirm. Even more importantly, he has also shown himself to be a kind and generous colleague and mentor. We’re proud to have him representing our alumni during this celebration of our graduates.”
Levchin was raised in a family of Soviet scientists. The family was told multiple times that he would not survive the respiratory diseases of his youth; young Levchin was prodded to take up the clarinet to build lung capacity. When the Chernobyl nuclear power plant exploded in 1986, his family loaded Levchin and his younger brother on a train from their home in Kiev bound for Crimea for their safety.
The family left the USSR under political asylum in 1991, shortly before the Soviet Union collapsed. With just $700 to their name, they settled in Chicago, where Levchin attended Mather High School on the city’s north side before enrolling at the U. of I. in 1993.
By the time he graduated, Levchin had co-founded with classmates two companies that made internet tools. Those first ventures failed, as did the two that followed. As he told the publication Business Insider, he moved to Silicon Valley “since that's where all my friends go, and sometimes their companies don't fail.”
A company he co-founded with Peter Thiel came up with the money-transfer service known today as PayPal, which eventually went public before being purchased by eBay in 2002 for $1.5 billion.
In one of many encores to his initial success, Levchin in 2004 helped start the online social networking and review service Yelp, serving as board chairman until 2015.
Affirm, a financial technologies company Levchin co-founded, was recently valued between $1.5 billion and $2 billion.
He has remained involved with and supportive of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, making several appearances on campus. Levchin and his companies have hosted the Technology Entrepreneur Center’s Silicon Valley Workshop, where students take a weeklong tour of Silicon Valley companies and startups.
Information about commencement, including convocation and reception details, ticket distribution and parking, can be found at http://commencement.illinois.edu or through the commencement app at go.illinois.edu/commencementapp.
A new feature of commencement this year is a hooding ceremony for doctoral candidates Friday, May 11, at 11 a.m. in Krannert Center for the Performing Arts’ Foellinger Great Hall. Doctoral candidates are still invited to participate in the universitywide commencement; the hooding ceremony will focus on celebrating the accomplishments of doctoral degree recipients with their faculty mentors.