Howard Schultz's advice for the Class of 2017

Starbucks' Howard Schultz: Childhood in the projects inspired his ambition
Starbucks' Howard Schultz: Childhood in the projects inspired his ambition

Create millions of new jobs. Develop cleaner energy. End racism.

Those are big challenges, but Starbucks' Howard Schultz thinks this year's college graduates are up for the job.

In his commencement speech at Arizona State University on Monday, Schultz told grads that their generation will be the one to teach the world to recognize, respect and celebrate diversity.

Schultz, who recently stepped down as Starbucks CEO to become executive chairman, is not shy about speaking up about social issues. He has supported raising the minimum wage and pushed Starbucks to open a store in Ferguson following the city's violent protests. Under his leadership, Starbucks has offered all its employees health care and stock options.

He also launched the Starbucks College Achievement Plan, which covers tuition for a bachelor's degree from Arizona State University's online program. On Monday, 330 of the graduates were students who have received the benefit.

Related: 7 ways to pay for college without a scholarship

Speaking from personal experience, Schultz armed the students with some advice before sending them out to change the world: stay true to your values and reason for being.

Starbucks opened its first store in 1971 and grew fast through the 1990s. But growth eventually slowed, and Schultz has admitted he made mistakes during the tumultuous time. He said the leadership lost their way and forgot the company's guiding principles.

Schultz told the graduates that each and every one of them will leave their mark on the country, regardless of their race, religion, gender, sexual orientation, or class.

Related: Starbucks to add 240,000 jobs by 2021

Schultz grew up in public housing and was the first in his family to go to college. He told grads that he is living proof of the American dream, and that they need to tackle the country's long-term problems to keep it alive.

He left them with some words of wisdom that may seem unlikely to come from such a successful businessman, challenging them to summon their compassion, empathy, and give more than they receive.

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