NAU Social Media - Bill Gates NAU Commencement Address 2023: 5 things I wish I heard at the graduation I never had

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It is my pleasure to bring before you today an outstanding

individual whose accomplishments and contributions warrant

special recognition from the academic community of Northern

Arizona University. Bill Gates is co-chair of the Bill and

Melinda Gates Foundation, founder of Breakthrough Energy

and cofounder of Microsoft through more than 20 years of


At the Gates Foundation, he has worked on a broad spectrum of

global health and development issues, and through his private

office, Gates Adventures Ventures, Excuse me, he pursues

his work in Alzheimer’s Research, interdisciplinary

education, and technology. At Breakthrough Energy, he’s

putting his experience as an innovator and problem solver to

work to address climate change by supporting the next

generation of entrepreneurs.

Big thinkers and clean technologies. In 2010, Bill

Gates, along with Melinda French Gates and Warren Buffett,

founded the Giving Pledge, an effort to encourage the

wealthliest families and individuals to publicly commit

more than half of their wealth to philanthropic causes and

charitable organizations during their lifetime or in their will.

President Cruz Rivera, It is my honor.

To present Bill Gates for the Doctor of Humane Letters degree.

Thank you Provost Pugliesi. It is indeed an honor to have Bill

Gates with us today. Northern Arizona University recognizes

his highest attainment of professional achievement and

philanthropic contributions by bestowing upon him an honorary

doctoral degree Bill Gates in recognition.

Of your distinguished career and the acknowledgement of your

leadership and philanthropic commitments to shaping a better

world where every individual has the opportunity to live a

healthy life and reach their full potential, I hereby confer

upon you the degree of Doctor of Humane Letters, including all

the privileges, prerogatives, and responsibilities pertaining

to that degree. Congratulations. Thank you.

Good afternoon. Thank you President Cruz Rivera and the

Arizona Board of Regents for this tremendous honor. I am

thrilled to be here with any use esteemed faculty and staff.

Friends and family, the time has finally come to exhale. Today is

your accomplishment too, and I think that deserves a round of

applause. Graduates, you made it. You finished your capstones

and your internships. You survived junior level writing

class and multiple Tequila Sunrises.

You had your last Dimes Night at Museum Club and you earned your

rubber duck from Collins. You might be happy to know that I’ve

I’ve joined your ranks. I am now the proud recipient of an

honorary doctorate and.

An honorary doc. It’s an honor to have the opportunity to

address you today. I believe more people should know about

the tremendous value of an NAU education. You are graduating

from an institution that creates opportunity, fosters innovation

and builds community, and it is prepared you.

To find solutions to some of the biggest problems facing us

today. Any you is giving you something. I never received a

real college degree. I’m sure a lot of you know that I never

made it to my own graduation. I left college after three

semesters to start Microsoft. So what?

Go to college, dropout, know about graduation? Not much, to

be honest. As I prepared for today, I thought about how you,

as new graduates, can have the biggest impact on the world with

the education you received here. It got me thinking about the

graduation I never had, the commencement speech I never

heard, and the advice.

I wasn’t given on a day like this one, and that is what I

want to share with you this afternoon. The five things I

wish I was told at the graduation I never attended. The

first thing is your life isn’t a one act play. You probably feel a

lot of pressure right now to make the right decisions about

your career.

It might feel like those decisions are permanent. They’re

not. What you do tomorrow, or even for the next 10 years, does

not have to be what you do forever. When I left school, I

thought I would work at Microsoft for the rest of my

life. Today, I still love my part time work on software, but

philanthropy is my full time job.

I get to spend my days working with others to create

innovations to fight climate change and reduce inequalities

around the world, including in health and education. I feel

lucky that the Gates Foundation gets to support support amazing

institutions like NAU, even if it’s not what I imagined I’d be

doing when I was 22.

Not only is it okay to change your mind or have a second

career, it can be a very good thing. The second piece of

advice I wish I’d heard at my graduation is that you’re never

too smart to be confused. I thought I knew everything I

needed to know when I left college. But the first step to

learning something new?

Is embracing what you don’t know instead of focusing on what you

do know. At some point in your career, you’ll find yourself

facing a problem you cannot solve on your own. When that

happens, don’t panic. Take a breath, force yourself to think

things through, and then find smart people to learn from. It

could be a colleague with more experience.

You could be one of your fellow graduates who has perspective

and will push you to think differently. It might be an

expert in the field who’s willing to reply to your

questions over DM. Everything I’ve accomplished included

seeking knowledge from others who knew more people want to

help you. The key is to not be afraid to ask. You may be done

with school

but you can and should see the rest of your life as an

education. My third piece of advice is to gravitate towards

work that solves important problems. The good news is that

you’re graduating at a time when there are many important

problems to solve. New industries and companies are

emerging every day that will allow you to make a good living.

And make a difference. And advances in science and

technology have made it easier than ever to make a big impact.

For example, many of you are becoming foresters. Your

professors. Your professors taught you about cutting edge

tools like drones that use Lidar to produce accurate maps of the


You could find ways to use that technology to help fight climate

change. Some of you are heading off to start careers as

programmers. Use your talents to make sure all people can benefit

from artificial intelligence and to help eliminate biases in AI.

When you spend your days doing something that solves big

problem, it energizes you.

To do your best work. It forces you to be more creative, and it

gives your life a strong sense of purpose. My fourth piece of

advice is simple. Don’t underestimate the power of

friendship. When I was in school, I became friends with

another student who shared a lot of my interests, like science

fiction novels and computer magazines.

Little did I know how important that friendship would be. My

friend’s name was Paul Allen, and we started Microsoft

together. Remember that the people you’ve sat next to in

lectures, skied, snowballed with, and competed against on

Wingo Night are not just your classmates. They are your

network, your future cofounders and colleagues.

A great future support, source of support, information and

advice. The only thing more valuable than what you walk off

stage with today is who you walk on stage with. My final piece of

advice is the one I could have used the most. It took me a long

time to learn and it is this. You are not a slacker

if you cut yourself some slack. When I was your age, I didn’t

believe in vacations. I didn’t even believe in weekends. I

pushed everyone around me to work very long hours. In the

early days of Microsoft, my office overlooked the parking

lot and I would keep track of who is leaving early and who is

staying late.

But as I got older, and especially once I became a

father, I realized that both in terms of doing your best work

and having a great life, that that intensity was not always

appropriate. Don’t wait as long as I did to learn this lesson.

Take time to nurture your relationships, to celebrate

successes and recover from losses. Take a break when you

need to.

Take it easy on the people around you when they need it

too. And before you begin the next stage of your lives, take a

moment and have some fun. Tonight, this weekend, this

summer, whenever you deserve it. Class of 2023, the future

belongs to you. I believe that you will be the ones to solve

the climate crisis.

And reduce the gap between the rich and poor. You have already

made history by attending college during some truly

unprecedented times. I have no doubt that you will continue to

make history throughout the rest of your lives. I can’t wait to

see how you will drive progress around the world.

Congratulations on reaching this momentous milestone. Go,