She is half of one of the world’s biggest power couples, yet little is known about the first lady of Facebook, Priscilla Chan. The woman who captured the heart of the social network’s billionaire founder and chief executive, Mark Zuckerberg, Read on to get more details about her childhood and what it’s like to be married to the face of Facebook.
The essentials: The couple met as Harvard classmates and dated for nearly a decade before adding their May 2012 wedding as a “life event” to each other’s timelines. Chan is a former grade school teacher and a recent medical school graduate training to become a pediatrician. Want to know more?
Here are 10 things we learned about Priscilla Chan:
1. She’s “pro-hoodie.”
Chan said she has no problem with the trademark clothing item her husband dons nearly every day.
“He has graduated to a nicer hoodie. The main quality about this hoodie that’s nicer is that it’s softer, so he’s really excited about that,” she told Savannah. “I’m happy with whatever he wants to wear, as long as it’s appropriate for where we’re going. So he can’t wear it to weddings. And he can’t wear it to baby showers. But he can do whatever else he wants.”
In fact, Chan said her husband’s wardrobe choices are the least of her concerns:
“I’m pro-hoodie. He wears a fresh hoodie every day so that pretty much meets my lowest barrier for him,” she said. “I’m more concerned that he eats regularly.” Chan said Zuckerberg sometimes gets so excited about his work that he forgets to eat —and then later complains about feeling sick and having a headache.
2. Education is “an incredibly personal issue.”
Chan said her parents left their home country in refugee boats seeking a better future, but not understanding the education system in their new homeland. She grew up with her mom working two jobs and serving as interpreter for grandparents who didn’t speak English.
As the first in her family to graduate from college, “education is an incredibly personal issue for me,” Chan said. If you’re the first generation to go to college, she noted, sometimes you don’t realize your potential until others point it out. For her, those individuals were her public school teachers, whom she credits for “getting me excited about learning.”
“It was really my teachers that got me these opportunities to attend college, to go to medical school, and to be able to give back as a doctor today,” she said.
“My public school teachers did a great job of saying, ‘Check this out. You’re qualified for this. You should explore these opportunities.’ They’re the ones who said, ‘You know, apply to Harvard. You might be a good fit here,'” she said. “And then when I got to Harvard, it was even more opportunities that I didn’t know existed. So their effects have only compounded over time.”
As a reflection of her and Mark’s passion for education, the couple announced they will donate $120 million to help improve Bay Area public schools through their education foundation, Startup: Education.
3. She was not the most relaxed kid growing up.
Blame it on birth order. “I was really uptight,” Chan said with a laugh. “I’m the oldest child. I would say I’m probably a prototypical eldest child. I bossed my middle sister around all the time.”
Chan also has a second sister who is eight years younger, and who she thinks of “as my first child — and Mark’s first child, too, actually,” she said. The couple have been together for so long, “we’ve seen Michelle grow up since she was ten.”
4. She is fluent in three languages.
Chan can speak English, Spanish, and Cantonese. “I grew up speaking Cantonese at home. English, obviously, from school and growing up here,” she said.
Chan learned Spanish after realizing that so many of her patients spoke Spanish: “You can be a better provider and really connect better with individuals if you can speak their language, and so I started studying Spanish in college, and get lots of practice in my work.”
5. She was voted “class genius” in high school.
“I did have that honor,” she said, although she acknowledged: “I actually had a lot of very smart peers. The other ‘class genius’ is now a nuclear physicist.”
Chan said she’s still surrounded by a lot of smart people but the surroundings have changed: “I’m just a little fish in a big pond.”
6. She definitely wants to be a mother — one day.
“Yes, we would love to have kids. But we’re so busy taking care of other people’s children right now,” she said.
7. She and her husband already take care of one “child.”
He has four legs, his own Facebook page (that has 1.8 million followers), and a lot of hair. “We have Beast, our Hungarian sheep dog and he is so talented. He’s so smart,” Chan said, bragging about her pet’s herding prowess. “We’ve been told that he’s quite gifted.”
Chan joked that Beast means more to her husband than she does. “The dog is his second priority after Facebook,” she said.
Chan said Zuckerberg spends “probably 30 minutes every day” asking her about Beast, making sure he is “really happy and satisfied.” The behavior makes her wonder whether she’s getting a peek into their future as parents.
“We have very different approaches to Beast,” she said. “And so that might be duplicated when we have kids.”
8. She finds it strange to have so many people curious about who she is.
“It’s incredibly odd,” she said about being half of one of the world’s biggest power couple. What helps is Chan’s current occupation as a medical resident, which means she spends countless hours conducting hospital rounds.
“I am in a fortunate situation, where I get to train as a doctor in a program where everyone just treats me like a normal resident,” she said. “That could be good and bad. But it’s nothing glamorous. I get to have the same experience as everyone else. So it’s strange, because I don’t feel it in my everyday life. I’m just someone who’s training to be a doctor.”
9. She first met Zuckerberg while waiting in line for the bathroom at a Harvard fraternity party.
The party was thrown by friends who thought Zuckerberg was about to get kicked out of school for a prank he had pulled. “I thought he was just this really interesting guy, who really wasn’t that studious,” she said.
“On our first date, he told me that he’d rather go on a date with me than finish his take-home midterm. The type-A first child in me was appalled,” she said.
Chan tried to send him home so he could finish the test, prompting her date to think she wasn’t interested in him. “Turns out he was just trying to convince me to spend more time with him,” she said. “ And I’ve since learned that he’s very bright. And his type of learning is different than my approach to learning.”
But apparently, they do have the same taste in jokes. Zuckerberg used to have a set of beer glasses that involved some computer-science humor.
“I did a little computer programming myself,” she said, “and he shared these glasses with me. And they said ‘#include <beer.h>,’ which is C++ language, and we both had a good laugh about them,” she said. “I think he appreciated that I got the joke.”
10. She wishes more people could see her husband as she sees him.
“I think it’s a shame when people don’t see the funny, thoughtful Mark that I know,” she said. “He is incredibly sensitive and really cares about what other people need and want and really wants to be able to make someone else’s day. And that’s the Mark that I see.”