Bitcoin Commencement Speaker Defends Ayahuasca-Fueled Speech, Praises Satoshi

The viral Ohio State University commencement speaker isn’t backing down, despite the negative attention his now-famous speech has received: Chris Pan believes in Bitcoin’s potential, he told Decrypt in an interview. And he thinks you should too.

Why? Pan says that when his interest in Bitcoin was rekindled earlier this year, he was gripped by one key trend: The institutions are here.

BlackRock and Fidelity piqued Pan’s interest in February as familiar Wall Street names pushed deeper into the esoteric market through spot Bitcoin ETFs, he told Decrypt. The development encouraged him to buy Bitcoin, and later include mention of it in his commencement speech.

“I’m a Harvard MBA and former Facebook guy, so I understand adoption curves,” Pan said. “All of a sudden, I understood: Wow, we’re ready to tip into the mainstream […] This is Bitcoin’s IPO moment.”

Graduating from OSU in 1999, Pan’s unorthodox commencement speech drew widespread attention this week—not only for its suggestion to consider investing in Bitcoin, but also for its musical numbers, magic trick, and ayahuasca-fueled origins. His controversial comments included calling Bitcoin “a very misunderstood asset class,” which provoked audience groans.

Pan himself said he understood little about Bitcoin when he first heard of the asset in 2017. After purchasing a small amount in 2020, he then sold his BTC after a 20% dip, he said.

“So embarrassing,” Pan recalled, adding that a steep drawdown had “freaked [him] out.”

For years, the crypto-cognizant have keyed in on financial institutions as power players to watch. Not only could their steadily increasing involvement legitimize the digital assets space, but this year, asset managers’ products have been a main driver of Bitcoin’s year-to-date rally. From Pan’s point of view, it warranted an allocation of more than just “play money,” like before.

“The ETFs, to me, offered convenience and a sense of security,” he said, noting that he need not worry about managing a digital wallet’s private keys with the product. “That was a sign that the asset class had matured enough for me to really get serious about it.”

Before sharing his knowledge of Bitcoin with 60,000 Ohio State commencement attendees on Sunday, Pan said he sharpened his comments in conversations with family and friends. Within four weeks of rediscovering Bitcoin, that entailed talking with his brother, dad, cousins, and friends. He didn’t want them to miss out on Bitcoin, and believed that the asset could help them financially.

It wasn’t until mid-March that Pan decided to include Bitcoin in his speech, he said. While emotional and spiritual health were always something always planned to touch on, he decided Bitcoin could be an example of why it’s beneficial to have an open mind.

“I was like, ‘You know what? Let me just throw [it] in,” he said of Bitcoin’s inclusion. “It was just about financial health, of which Bitcoin was my example of something interesting to look at.”

A social entrepreneur, musician, and inspirational speaker, one of Pan’s current endeavors involves a positive-affirmation jewelry business called MyIntent. In LinkedIn comments, responding to a psychedelics-centered post, several purported attendees said his speech on Sunday came across as him promoting his business, or an agenda.

“All I said was: To be a great investor, you have to be open-minded and look for misunderstood opportunities,” he said. “Unfortunately, people just jump right to the conclusion.”

Still, Pan believes that Bitcoin could solve real-world problems, such as addressing the scarcity of housing in the U.S. by providing real estate owners an alternative store of value.

Drawing on his experience from the management consulting firm McKinsey & Company, Pan said he pieced together this new understanding of Bitcoin primarily through “YouTube University.”

That included watching videos of Twitter founder and Block CEO Jack Dorsey talking about Bitcoin, as well as MicroStrategy executive founder and chairman Michael Saylor. One of Dorsey’s chats left a notable impression on Pan, he said, as it suggested that Bitcoin’s pseudonymous creator Satoshi Nakatomo was somewhat charitable.

“Here’s a trillion-dollar asset class where the founder disappeared after three years, and didn’t want to come back and take credit for it,” Pan said. “I just thought that was like the coolest example of selflessness. And I think that’s the most misunderstood part about Bitcoin.”

Edited by Andrew Hayward

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