Presidential hopeful addresses Exonians

Andrew Yang '92 spoke at assembly about why he has mounted a longshot campaign for the White House.

Adam Loyd
February 8, 2019
Exeter alum Andrew Yang addresses the assembly at Exeter

Andrew Yang '92, Democratic candidate for president, addresses assembly.

Democratic presidential candidate Andrew Yang ’92 spoke to students and faculty in Assembly Hall on Friday about his perception of the current state of the country, his vision for change — and his motivation to run for the White House.                             

“There are two poles in terms of thinking about problems,” Yang said. “Pole number one is someone else will take care of it, and pole number two is I’m going to take care of it.”

Back on campus for the first time since he graduated, Yang admitted to struggling during his two years as an Exeter student — “most of that was on me; I was a very angsty kid.” The benefit of time and experience has reshaped how he values his time here. “I am deeply grateful to Phillips Exeter Academy, because this place was the best educational experience I ever had.”

After graduating from Exeter, Yang went on to attend Brown University where he studied political science and economics. He continued his education at Columbia University, earning a law degree.

His time practicing law was short lived; he left a corporate law firm after five months to pursue other opportunities. He recounted his reason for leaving, calling the firm “a temple to the squandering of human potential.” Yang went on to start an online company that failed, but in the process taught him valuable lessons in entrepreneurship. Asking students with entrepreneurial aspirations to raise their hands, Yang then shared what he called the “secret to entrepreneurship.”

“Tell everyone you know you’re going to do something and then you don’t have a choice,” he said. After working for numerous start-ups and early-stage companies, Yang founded Venture for America, a nonprofit designed to encourage and equip young entrepreneurs with the skills needed to create businesses in American cities outside of the major markets of New York City, Chicago, Los Angeles, Boston, San Francisco and Washington D.C.

Yang’s business acumen was noticed at the highest levels of government when he was appointed as the Ambassador of Global Entrepreneurship by President Barack Obama in 2015. But Yang became unsatisfied by the response from his peers in Washington D.C. to what he calls “the third inning of the greatest economic and technological transformation in the history of our country.” Yang cites the economic ”disparities between different parts of the country” as the catalyst in his decision to announce his candidacy. 

“If you fly between Missouri and San Francisco or Cleveland and Manhattan, you feel like your traversing decades, ways of life and dimensions, not just a couple of time zones,” he said.

As the first Asian-American man to run for president as a Democrat, Yang is already positioning himself as a counterpoint to his potential 2020 opponent. “The opposite of Donald Trump is an Asian man who likes math,” he said. 

Yang has built his platform based on the idea of Universal Basic Income, a payment of $1,000 per month to every American adult age 18 to 64. Yang’s “Freedom Dividend” calls for the taxation of companies benefiting from automation to fund the program. Throughout the speech, Yang used the automation of the trucking industry as an example of the types of jobs that he believes will be affected in the near future. He also made the argument that automation will have an effect on numerous occupational fields. “It doesn’t matter if you spent 10 years in college and medical school and trained as a radiologist, AI is going to do that job better than you,” he said. Yang is hopeful that his program will “take the economic boot off of people’s throats,” allowing Americans to feel more secure in knowing they can provide for themselves and their families as the growing trend of automation continues. 

Showing a slide of his family, Yang said, “this is why I care about the future.” He joked that his children are “not very rugged” and that they “would do quite poorly in an era of trucker riots and social dissertation.” With an eye toward the 2020 election, Yang feels he’s the man for the job.

“I’m doing what I’m doing because I think we need to drag this country in a direction where first we acknowledge the scope and enormity of the problem and then do something about it.”